On December 10, in celebration of International Human Rights Day, a group gathered at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Shelter Rock in Manhasset to listen to Border Angels founder Enrique Morones discuss why the organization’s lifesaving effort is not “aiding and abetting” undocumented immigrants, but merely fulfilling a humanitarian mission.
Volunteers for the San Diego-based immigrant advocacy group seek to stop deaths due to extreme weather conditions and hate crimes for those traveling through California’s Imperial Valley, as well as other border areas. These volunteers set up and stock rescue stations across the states bordering on Mexico with life saving food, water, and clothing.
“We started to go to the desert to bring water after the U.S., in 1994, built a wall between San Diego and Tijuana. Now, because of the wall, instead of one or two people dying each month, one or two people die every day,” Morones notes. “Today’s immigrants leave out of desperation the same way the Europeans did. But the difference is that the Europeans had a statue that welcomed them. We don’t have a statue. We have a wall.”
Morones emphasized that Border Angels’ work is not limited just to saving lives in the desert. “We’re involved in many efforts. What we’re best known for is the water in the desert, but we also work with day laborers, marches, caravans, films, […] but all with the same mission – that with love you win over hate.”
Border Angels’ work is both human and harrowing, and also to subject of much criticism from anti-immigrant groups. Morones has received numerous threats to his life from those that seek to stop his work, often forcing him to rely on security to protect him during events. “Any person who is involved in this kind of work faces people who are against them, who threaten them,” Morones said. “ We all face these risks, but this is nothing compared to what the immigrant faces.”
Contrary to the belief of his critics, Morones does not encourage immigrants to cross the border. “I think the majority of people don’t understand the huge risk they face in crossing the border.” Because of the dangers from extreme weather and hate groups, as well as unscrupulous coyotes, Border Angels has actively campaigned with U.S. Border Patrol to encourage people to not attempt the dangerous trip. “Ten thousand people have died since ,” Morones reaffirms, “and I guarantee none of them thought they would die crossing.”
Morones’ work has gained national attention and has made him an influential voice in our nation’s discourse on immigration. He expressed hope that our nation’s immigration system will be reformed in the years to come, but emphasized the immediate need to open eyes about immigrants. “There is no such thing as an illegal person,” Morones asserted. “There are only people who want to live better lives.”