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People are dying out here

6.21. 2018 Posted By: The Mennonite 256 Times read

The son of man will be handed over to be crucified. –Matthew 26:2

Artist Alvaro Enciso builds beautiful crosses from empty tin cans he finds on the migrant trail in the desert on the Mexico-Arizona border.

Enciso tells me he had no idea people were dying out here in the Sonora desert, but the deaths of 3,000 people have been documented and 2,000 more people are still missing. He works with a group of older adults called Samaritans, who provide water stations for migrants who are crossing the border searching for a better life.

He remembers seeing a map with red dots where people have died in the desert. Sections of the southern Arizona map had so many red dots that it was simply a mass of red. Every week, Enciso walks out into the desert to mark the places with one of his crosses where people have died.

Each Tuesday, his goal is to mark at least one more grave. So far, he’s marked 800 graves with crosses. He knows his task will never end because more people keep dying out here.

Each cross marks the place where the American dream ended for someone, says Enciso, a former professor of anthropology. For many of these migrants, their only hope for fleeing poverty and violence in their own country is to try to cross the border into the United states. The lack of a humane immigration policy in the United States can make this trip for migrants a deadly one.

Enciso knows his art, his crosses, are out in the desert in the middle of nowhere, and he knows his art will be viewed by few people, if anyone. But every day, he says, someone else is suffering in this desert, and he believes his crosses can help restore the humanity of the people who have died here.

“The cross used to be the electric chair for the Roman Empire,” Enciso says.

By building a border wall and pushing people further out into the desert to try to cross the border, Enciso says we are asking the desert to kill people so that we can keep our own hands clean.

His crosses symbolize modern day crucifixions. Enciso believes the crosses are symbol of where the vertical and horizontal lines meet, the place where we can find compassion.

“People are dying out here in the desert,” Enciso says. “But I want to help remember them, to help keep their stories alive.

J. Ron Byler is executive director of Mennonite Central Committee U.S. All photos are provided by the author.

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