We recently came back from a trip to a magical city, San Miguel de Allende in Mexico. It?s a beautiful place, with steep, cobble stoned streets, ancient churches and outdoor markets. Every morning we would walk into town, peering into the tiny stores and catching glimpses of lovely gardens behind high walls. At night we would sit in the Jardin in the center of the city and listen to the local musicians.

The only trouble we had driving across the border was that (as we later discovered) we were using the Spanish word for “trolley” instead of “automobile,” but as soon as the official went out into the parking lot and discovered that we were actually driving a car, he gave us our required permit.

When you cross the border into Mexico, you immediately notice the change. The ground cover has been almost totally eaten away by livestock, and people graze their goats and burros on the highway median. This makes for some nervous driving but it also means that, as far as the eye can see, the topsoil has blown away and the land has become a harsh, useless desert.

One of the side trips we took from San Miguel was to Guanajuato, a lovely colonial city built over an extraordinary set of tunnels that were once used for mining. I remembered that trip last week, when I read that two Mexicans, an 18- year-old man and a 30-year-old woman, died of dehydration while trying to walk from Guanajuato to the U.S. in 105 degree heat in order to find work.

A few weeks ago, 14 out of a group of 26 Mexican men died of exposure in the desert of Arizona. The New York Times reported on Sunday, June 10 that a church group has started putting tanks of water out in the desert for illegal immigrants, hoping to prevent further deaths. Here in Texas, we personally know of ranchers who leave clothes out on fence posts for any wetbacks who might be walking through their land.

It was a strange experience to go from visiting a country and being surrounded by the kind of people who regularly make the trek north, to returning to the U.S. where these same people are considered the enemy and told to keep out. It made the illegal immigrant stories more real when I reflected that while we were driving home on a modern highway in an air conditioned car, two people were headed north on foot through the desert. If they started out close to the road, they may have even spotted our car whizzing by. They didn’t make it; we did.

Because of widespread media, including music, movies, TV and the internet, and due to increased travel, we are all becoming citizens of the world. We can no longer insulate ourselves behind the fortress of comfortable, suburban America. The Master of the Key told Whitley that in the West, we each have five slaves–that is the extent to which we who are so rich exploit the poor, even if we’re not aware of it.

As individuals, it sometimes seems that the problem is so big that there’s nothing we can do about it. But at least we can be compassionate. We can’t let politicians tell us that the people who struggle and die trying to cross the border are pesky invaders and not wonderful human beings, just like the ones who are close to us in our own lives. We can find a way, somehow, to take water into the desert.

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