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Weekly vigil in Douglas, Arizona, honors migrants who have died

Every Tuesday since the year 2000, members of Frontera de Cristo, a religious organization, have led the "Healing Our Borders Prayer Vigil."
Posted at 11:18 PM, Mar 14, 2024

In the border city of Douglas, Arizona, the street that leads you to Mexico is the same path used to remember migrants who died in Cochise County trying to cross the border into the United States.

Every Tuesday since the year 2000, members of Frontera de Cristo, a religious organization, have led the "Healing Our Borders Prayer Vigil."

ABC15 was present at one of the vigils where Jack Knox, a volunteer, led the vigil.

How it started

According to Knox, three years before the vigil started, “there had already been a few people dying in the desert” but there was a monsoon storm that caused more devastation in the community in terms of migrant deaths.

“Mark and ‘Chuy ’ Gallegos, who was his co-director of Frontera at that time, Father Bob Carney, some Roman Catholics, sisters, and other people of faith, finally decided to start this vigil,” explained Knox. “They also had this bench put here; the city let them put this bench here in memory of people who've died crossing the desert.”

Now the bench, located near the intersection of 5th Street and Pan American Avenue, serves as the gathering point for the vigil.

Crosses and names

According to Knox, the group that holds the vigil learns about the migrants who’ve died in Cochise County via the organization Humane Borders. Nonetheless, there have been other organizations of faith that have played their part in collecting the information of the migrants who died in Cochise County.

There's more than just a name on a cross.

“A complete cross will have the name of the person, it'll have their birth date, it'll have the date that their remains were found. It may also have a red circle on it. If there's a red circle on it a duplicate cross has been made, it's larger, and it's been placed as close as feasible to where the remains were found. That was a project that was started by the School Sisters of Notre Dame who are no longer here at this location,” explained Knox during the prayer vigil. 

To date, there are more than 340 crosses as part of the "Healing Our Borders Prayer Vigil."

The latest data from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection is from 2021, which states there were 568 deaths along the southwest border that year.

20 years and still counting

The vigil is led by members of Frontera de Cristo, but other faith groups have taken part in it throughout the year, including community members of Douglas and Tucson.

According to Knox, about 130 of the crosses are used each vigil. The crosses that are used every week are rotated so all of the more than 340 crosses are used at some point in the vigils.

The prayer vigil remembers migrants who died crossing the U.S.-Mexico border in Cochise County. The meaning of consistently taking part in the vigil may differ from one person to another. Jack Knox is one of those members who are there weekly.

In a one-on-one interview with ABC15, here’s what Knox shared:

ABC15'S NICOLE GUTIERREZ: I was hearing you when we were walking down the street, [you sound] very passionate. Why do you do it every week?

JACK KNOX: I think it's important to remember these people. And I remember when I first came here, someone told me they would be glad when we didn't have to do this anymore. And I told them, ‘Well, I hope we never quit. I hope we never forget these people that we keep doing that even after the political crap is already dealt with.’

GUTIERREZ: What does this represent for a community like Douglas, to remember each person?

KNOX: Douglas is like any other community, there's people here all over the board in terms of what they believe about migration and migrants and where they are politically. I'm sure that some people are irritated by it. I know. There's a lot of people who support it. Douglas is not a community where we've had a lot of open head-butting. [There’s] some real tolerance here at up to a point where I mean, I don't know where the breaking point is. I hope we don't reach it. But… people care about the community enough that they haven't let this really become the kind of ugly thing that we've seen in some communities. Yeah. And that's one of the things I like about Douglas. I mean, I know I have friends, I know people who are very anti-immigration, somehow or other would muddle through.

This story was originally published by Nicole Gutierrez at Scripps News Phoenix.