Bridging borders: The Good Samaritan

By Adriana Avila, Senior Reporter | Photo by: John Tyczkowski

Good SamaritanThe trails to the American Dream are hazardous, but one man is easing the journey for some immigrants.

Ted Martinez, CNM president from 1988 through 1995, said he travels to the Mexican border to offer help and supplies to undocu­mented immigrants for a few days each month.

Martinez is involved with the Tucson Samaritans and the Green Valley Samaritans who travel across the Arizona border near Nogales, Mexico, he said.

“What Samaritans are trying to do is locate places where we think migrants are coming through, leave water and food, because most of them don’t know how treacherous it is,” Martinez said.

The Samaritans give aid to the campesi­nos, average farm workers and other trav­eling migrants in dis­tress, he said.

“Most of them are simple campesinos. They come from Guatemala, El Salvador and southern Mexico and they have no idea what they’re get­ting into. I’ve met some who haven’t crossed yet, and I tell them, ‘It’s very, very dangerous, crossing. You’re risking your life.’ Of course, they’re will­ing to take the chance. That’s how desperate they are,” he said.

The Samaritans travel deep into the trails to drop off supplies for the undocumented immigrants faced with harsh travel conditions, he said.

“What the Samaritans do is that they send out teams every day, to certain parts of the border, pre-positioned locations, and then they go back and check, maybe every two weeks. We’ll leave maybe 15 bottles of water; those one-gallon water containers. The Samaritans take these plastic containers, like for pickles, and we put food, primarily things that won’t perish, and clothes items,” he said.

With the help of coyotes, paid border guides, migrants travel the trails but most do not make it to the finish, he said.

“A lot of people cross with coyotes, and there’s 10 to 12 people; if one gets injured they leave that person behind and often they’re not found and they die in the desert,” he said.

Unfortunately the Samaritans often do not find these migrants. This year around the Tucson area, almost 100 people have not been found and are presumed to have died, he said.

Martinez and the Samaritans search the desert to help struggling migrants find their way to safety, he said.

“The Samaritans go out in groups of four, made up of usually a medical person, at least one person that speaks Spanish and one person that drives the four-wheel-drive. We go out into the desert, and leave our vehicle, and we go to these locations where the migrants are known to be crossing over the trails,” he said.

If the migrants are in critical condition, Border Patrol is called to trans­port them to hospitals or to on-staff medical teams, he said.

Those who are look­ing for the way, but have been deported, go to El Comedor, which is run by the Kino Project to help migrants cope with deportation and offers shelter and a meal twice a day.

Martinez visits the camp once a month to talk with some migrants, most of whom still plan to cross to search for a better life, he said.

Wearing what they were when detained, the deportees Martinez has met usually arrive at the camp without shoe­laces, belts, or forms of identification or of communication.

The Kino Project is run by Jesuit priests and American volunteers, most of whom are stu­dents, he said.

Martinez was involved with the Peace Corps before becoming CNM presi­dent and has worked with the Salvadoran refugees in Belize for a literacy program when he retired in 1995.

“So now in my old age, I guess that’s why I’m trying to do something to help some people from dying. The coyotes take them halfway, demand more money. They have none, and then get abandoned. Often what they’ll do is, after the person has died, the coy­otes will call their family if they have some rela­tives in the states, and say, ‘You know, you’ve got to send us more money’ when as a matter of a fact the person is deceased. I’ve heard many stories from people who tell me these things, and it’s just heartbreaking what’s going on,” he said.

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