Crossing the border from Altar, Mexico into Sasabe, Arizona #immigration

Have you ever wondered what freedom looks like…well here is an opportunity to look right inside where many would consider their passage to freedom. In 2006, I rode in this van from Altar, Mexico along a 60 mile dirt road to Sasabe, Arizona.

I was able to join a group of individuals traveling from all over Mexico and Central America to Altar, Mexico; the last stop along their journey before they crossed into the United States of America.

This trip took us to the border where this group of individuals would travel by night out into the desert to cross the border into the Tohono O’odham Nation, a federally-recognized tribe that includes approximately 28,000 members occupying tribal lands in Southwestern Arizona.

If you look just inside the door of the van is a man with his face half concealed by the van door. I spent most of my time visiting with this gentleman as he shared his story. He was traveling to the Charlotte, NC area; he just returned to his home where he just brought back money so his daughter could attend a better school, a safer school.

On this ride along the bumpy, dirt rode; I sat half on the ledge with carpet and half in the step holding a camera and trying to stay down below the window so the local police would not see me traveling. If you look, you can see the arm of the person sitting in the front seat, his jacket has stars. This is the coyote or coyotajes, the person smuggling these individuals across the US/Mexican border. The word coyotajes originated in the early 19th century, where it was used to describe a person that employed Mexican immigrants for labor in the United States.

This coyote spent the first 20 minutes of the trip collecting money from those individuals in the van, the fee was based on how far they were willing to travel. Some of the money was used at check points along this Mexican dirt road where local police would stop us, looking for a little payoff money, lunch money. We were stopped numerous times, sometimes M16’s held pointed at the windows as the transaction was taking place.

This is the last leg of this group’s trip before making their passage across the border. They had already traveled so far coming from places like Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras (where the murder rate is the highest in the world). Now, they continue to travel in vans like this one, sometimes at gun point for passage to a place they can make a new life. The gentleman just inside the door shared with me; he is willing to do a job he does not like, that we United States Americans are not willing to do, in order to make money for his family back in Mexico.