I didn’t know an apple could mean so much.
As I handed it to the woman standing with a young man in the middle of the thick desert brush, tears started running down her face.
It wasn’t something I expected to encounter when I set out that October morning to discover what the fencing between the U.S. and Mexico border really looks like for my depth reporting class.
We were going on our sixth hour out in the desert and everyone was losing steam. It was pouring rain and the thunder and lightning were so intense that we were ready to get on the road home.
But Karl Hoffman, a documentary film maker and our guide, wanted to show us a part of the border fence that he thought we really ought to see. It was still very cold but the rain was letting up, so we drove on.
As we turned the corner we saw the young man and the woman who had short black hair that was slicked beneath a baseball cap. She was wearing a black T-shirt that was soaked because of the rain and she was holding a large jug. They didn’t run or hide when they saw our vehicle; they just stood there staring at us. They were probably both in their 20s and were not in good shape.
Karl thought that we should talk to them so we stopped the vehicle and all got out. We were with a Canadian journalist named Sophia who spoke Spanish. They asked for water.
I didn’t have any water but I handed her the apple and then saw her tears. I struggled to hold back my own. It was hard for me to understand how they felt. At the same time, seeing them made this immigration dilemma that I had only heard and read about become so real.
Karl gave them a blanket to keep from his car. The woman told Sophia that she and the man she was with were separated from their coyote — the smuggler they paid to get them into the U.S. The man and woman didn’t even know each other; they were put together by chance and now their lives were in each other’s hands.
She continued to tell us that they didn’t know what to do and they were losing hope. If they continued in the desert, she said they would die because the conditions were so rough. We weren’t in what most people would normally envision what a desert would look like. We were surrounded by rolling hills for miles. Walking even a mile could probably take someone most of their day.
The woman asked us if we could lead them back to the border; their only other option was to turn themselves into the U.S. Border Patrol, which had driven right past us just minutes before our encounter with the migrants.
Luckily, we were right on the border. So we turned them around and walked them to the border and the fence, which was the strangest thing I have ever seen. This fence wasn’t even a fence. It was a gate with a vehicle barrier in front of it, no lock on the gate, no barbed wire. There was also a sign above it that said Mexico.
The woman jumped over the barrier while the man proceeded to literally open the gate and walk through it. Sophia continued to talk to them and get some background about why they crossed the border.
The woman said she wasn’t even crossing the border to come live in America. Her sister lived in the U.S., was pregnant and asked for her help. Her sister told her crossing the border was easy and she shouldn’t have any problems.
The man was crossing the border to live and work in the U.S. He had already attempted the journey once before and was deported. Since he had already lost any hope of becoming a legal American resident because of his first deportation, he felt he had nothing to risk with another attempt.
After about an hour of talking to them they decided to travel on back into Mexico. We all said, “adios,” and they walked away and disappeared into the desert.
But they didn’t disappear from my mind.
Hours later, this was all my friends and I could talk about. I couldn’t believe that we actually encountered migrants in the desert. Seeing them put everything into perspective for me. These people crossing the border aren’t illegals or immigrants or statistics. They are just people with reasons why they want to be in the U.S. whether that be for a better life or just to spend time with family.
I’m saddened knowing what the people we met had endured. They risked their lives in hope of creating better ones. The saddest thing to see was their hopelessness; they knew they were going to die if they tried to go any farther and as much as they wanted to, they just couldn’t.
But their journey did have an impact — on me. This experience allowed me to see these two migrants, to look into their eyes, to see and feel their despair, to help them a bit and wish them well, all the while knowing that there be will countless others like them and, unfortunately, no end in sight to the immigration dilemma in this country.
Editors note: This essay was written by guest author Shannon Beaver. Contact the writer at email@example.com.