By Nancy Wiechec
NOGALES, Ariz. — About 30 miles north of the border with Mexico, seven U.S. bishops and two priests piled out of a small bus just off of I-19 in Arizona.
Jesuit Father Sean Carroll of the Kino Border Initiative was going to take them on a short hike in the Sonoran Desert.
“How far are we going?” asked one. “Is this illegal?”
Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, N.M., ducks under barbed wire as a group of U.S. bishops tours an area of the Arizona desert north of Nogales. (CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec)
Father Carroll led the way. First, they negotiated the steep incline from the road. Then crouched through a short tunnel underneath. Out of the tunnel, they ducked under a barbed wire fence careful not to catch their shirts. One bishop lost his balance and took a little spill into tiny pebbles of rock. They continued down a bone dry wash.
Bishop John C. Wester of Salt Lake City takes a picture of a discarded backpack in the Arizona desert. (CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec)
Just a few steps down the gravel path, they spotted discarded backpacks and socks — remnants from migrants who have passed this way.
They maneuvered past the thin thorny braches of desert brush and over spiny cacti. Prickles of bur sage attached to their pant legs and socks.
Climbing over the bank of the wash, the group stood in the open sun of the desert. It was only 72 degrees that morning. Even so, your skin can burn if its not protected and you can quickly dehydrate. In the summer the temperature can soar past 110 degrees.
Father Carroll told the bishops why migrants – many trying to make their way to work or to be with family — lose their lives out here.
Men, woman and children from Mexico or elsewhere perish in the Arizona desert from exposure, dehydration or injury. One group keeping track counts at least 200 who die this way each year.
It can take three to five days for a migrant to cross the unforgiving desert. Many move at night to avoid the extreme heat, but traveling on foot in the dark brings other risks.