Local efforts could aid border crossers
The project, created by Robert Ransick, a digital arts professor at the college, aims to relieve border tensions through greater understanding while offering humanitarian aid. Approximately 200 people die trying to cross the border between Mexico and Arizona each year, according to data from the Human Rights Coalition.
Hundreds die crossing
The idea was inspired by conversations with border home owners who were looking to protect their homes from invasion in a non-aggressive way, according to the project's Web site. It also attempts to engage the immigrants and could save their lives in the harsh climate of the 120,000 square mile Sonoran Desert.
Ransick said that after seeing the faces of immigrants about to make the dangerous crossing, it was impossible not to try and help. "When you see the faces of these people, who are typically only represented through some statistics on a page," he said in an interview, "and watch them being herded like cattle from vans to pickup trucks and then plunked in the desert to walk for days with inappropriate supplies, you cannot help but feel for them.
"You know that something has to change," he added, "and it is not going to be guns or walls or hate that transforms this horrible situation."
More immigrants cross desert climates each year in attempts to enter America, as border protection in urban areas has increased, according to the project's Web site, casasegura.us.
A prototype of the house is on display at the Eyebeam, an arts and technology center in New York City, through Nov. 10. The small, solar-powered hut with water, food and medical supplies will then be moved to Arizona in the winter and be placed at an undisclosed, privately owned site. In the hut, immigrants can share their stories through traveler graffiti, pictograms and the Mexican tradition of ex-voto painting on an interactive touch-sensitive screen.
The information and narratives shared will then be uploaded to the Web, where property owners and the public at large can gain a greater understanding of immigrant journeys and lives.
A U.S. Border Patrol official said he feared the huts would cause more harm than good.
"It's a false sense of security to put one of these things up," said Supervisory Border Patrol Agent Jose Gonzalez Jr. of the Tucson Sector of the U.S. Office of Border Patrol on Monday. "Somebody might get to it but still have to travel a ways north of there, and hundreds of thousands of square miles would have to be covered just to be able to find it.
"(The Sonoran Desert) is a vast, remote desert area with few or no people living in it," he added. "If you get lost or disoriented, it is really difficult, if not impossible, for anyone to receive help."
Gonzalez said he understood the need to help people in the desert, and said that humanitarian efforts, people leaving food and water in the desert for immigrants, dates back to the 1990s. He said that is when stories of death and heart-wrenching narratives gained national media attention. "This concept is not new to us," he said.
In the Tucson sector alone, 262 linear miles of the border, U.S. officials made 352,000 arrests between October 2006 and August, according to Gonzalez.
Ransick said the idea came to life after he spoke with friends living along the border who had their houses broken into for food, clothing and water, but were looking for alternative solutions other than fencing, walls and vigilante activity. One property owner explained the dilemma they face on the project's Web site.
"Not long ago, our house was broken into while we were away," the property owner wrote. "The only things taken were some jeans and shirts, a few pair of walking shoes and food. We realized that it could only have been desperate migrants; we felt sad their taking only necessities spoke eloquently of their need ... and desperation."
Although one could see the project as promoting illegal immigration, which is against the law, the group behind the project said that is not the case.
"We do not advocate breaking any laws," the project's Web site reads. "Casa Segura is simply a site for anyone who happens upon it to get water, nutrition and basic medical supplies. The structure is not large enough to accommodate, nor is it intended for, living."
The Web site also states the people behind the project believe the U.S. border policy is in need of transformation, and the project is not a resolution to the issues surrounding the border, it only seeks to help the situation.
"Humanitarian aid is never a crime," the Web site reads.
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