As Martin Davidoff trekked through the blazing heat of Mexico's Sonora Desert in the spring, he carried the migration papers of his grandfather, who came to the United States a century ago to escape religious persecution in his native Russia.
Although Davidoff, a college mathematics teacher, has never known what it's like to flee a country in search of a better life, he kept the papers in his pocket as a reminder of the personal connection he had to the Migrant Trail Walk that he had decided to undergo.
"It was a very moving experience for me," Davidoff said.
The walk, organized each year by several human-rights organizations, is a seven-day, 75-mile trek from Sasabe, Mexico, to Tucson, Ariz. The route is commonly used by Mexican migrants attempting to enter the United States, according to the Coalici?n de Derechos Humanos (Human Rights Coalition), a grass-roots organization based in Arizona that co-sponsors the annual trail walk. The event is staged to raise awareness of the dangerous conditions that migrants face when making the trip across the border.
Davidoff will speak about his experience Saturday at an event sponsored by the Howard County Friends of Latin America.
"Our purpose really is to bring some awareness to people of the issues of our Latin American neighbors, and right now immigration is on people's minds quite a bit," said Nancy Meier, a member of the group who helped organize the event. "A lot of people don't understand. These people don't want to do this. They don't want to leave their families, their homes. ... And we hope that we can help [people] understand the immigrants' perspective."
Davidoff, a 66-year-old Catonsville resident who teaches at the Community College of Baltimore County, became interested in the walk because it meshed with his interest in social justice issues in Latin America. Over the past 20 years, Davidoff has made several trips to Central America and Mexico to participate in service programs and to learn more about the area. His passion for the region was especially sparked in 1992 when he took a trip to Guatemala for a seminar on Rigoberta Mench?, a Nobel Prize-winning humanitarian.
"I just fell in love with that part of the world," Davidoff said. "It was just so beautiful and just so interesting."
Walking the trail through the desert, however, was like nothing Davidoff had experienced.
"It looks so deceptively close on a map, but it takes a long time when you're on foot and walking through," he said.
Davidoff remembered one instance when a truck that was supposed to meet the walkers on the side of the road to provide them with fresh water did not show up. The water the walkers had carried with them had reached 120 degrees, he said.
The walkers would wake up at 4 a.m. and walk until about 11 a.m., when the desert heat became unbearable, he said. In that area, temperatures can range from higher than 115 degrees in the summer to 20 degrees in the winter, and the temperature can fluctuate as much as 50 degrees in a day, said Lloyd Easterling, assistant chief of U.S. Border Patrol.
"It's just day after day of grinding out the miles and just being aware of what a dangerous place it is," Davidoff said. "You don't read about these little details. I'll always think of the desert in a very different way."
From October last year through August, the Border Patrol apprehended almost 670,000 people who were entering the U.S. illegally, Easterling said. About 300,000 of those arrests were made in the Tucson sector, which covers 262 miles of the Arizona border and is one of the most-used routes from Mexico to the United States because of its topography.
"The terrain and the lack of infrastructure makes it very difficult for us to patrol," Easterling said. "That gives people a false sense of hope that they're going to be able to avoid any shortfalls in their trip, and of course the smugglers don't tell them anything different."
In that sector from October last year through August, the Border Patrol recorded 154 migrant deaths, a decrease from 193 during the same period the previous year, Easterling said.
During the trip, Davidoff said, he met several migrants who were trying to reach the border.
"They were doing it so their brothers and sisters could actually go to school," he said. "They were really doing it out of dedication for the family."
On a more personal level, the walk offered an opportunity for Davidoff to reflect on his grandfather's immigration in 1908.
"It sort of gave me a little connection to the migrants," Davidoff said.
The presentation will be held at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Owen Brown Community Center in Columbia. For more information, call Howard County Friends of Latin America at 410-381-4899.