Travel, in just about any form, requires a set of skills and intentions including open-mindedness, instantaneous problem solving, compromise and a healthy dose of caution for the unexpected. This “backpack” of tools accompany travelers whether it’s a family vacation to Colorado, taking a quick hike with our dog, business travel, peacekeeping missions, or migration. For those privileged to have the means to travel to other countries, there are websites, flight tools, ex-pat blogs, and travel books to support the journey that begins with the stated goal, “We’re going to India.”
As travel lists are checked off, we build the confidence that upon arrival at our final destination, we will be greeted by trustworthy people, things will go roughly according to plan, and that others will have our best interests in mind. We pray that our intuitions will guide us well when decisions present themselves. For many, we cope with the cautionary tales that are eagerly shared by friends and family. For many like myself, we hope that our identities don’t betray us. In other words, we hope the strangers we meet look beyond our appearance; we hope that they don’t take advantage of our gender, race, class or nationality.
In the end, most of us who travel realize the fruits of our hope and planning with wonderful memories to carry forward. But not all journeys are the same.
Images of Migration
The global framing of migration itself has shifted significantly in recent years, much of the mainstream awareness triggered by fleeing Syrian migrants. It was the image of a little boy’s sneakers that reached into our hearts, begged us to relate to his vulnerability and ask the question: What do we hold dear in times of uncertainty and danger?
Recently, a New Yorker article featured sobering visuals by photographer Tom Kiefer, a former Customs and Border Protection janitor in Ajo, Arizona. The piece illustrates the nuances of migration, featuring items confiscated from apprehended undocumented migrants. Viewing these often haunting images illustrates the travelers’ preparedness for the unknown. We learn what so many of these migrants chose to bring—from basic necessities to personal items that gave them comfort and hope in the face of an uncertain and risky trip. Keifer’s photographs capture the vulnerability and dignity of each person who passed through his facility in Arizona.
If we were able to ask these travelers about the possessions they brought and their experience along the way, what would they say?
Was it your favorite Tia Tessie that gave you that beautiful red rosary, because your faith gives you hope during times of hopelessness? How many belt notches did you pull in while you withstood the stress of travel and unpredictable timing of your next meal? How did you ration your quart of water, uncertain of how long the desert journey would actually take?
And now that those beloved possessions are gone and the journey is done, what does hope feel like? How much longer does it take for you to sleep at night now that your favorite stuffed dog, Pedro, is deemed “non-essential” and therefore “discardable?” Who cares for you when you’re separated from those you love? Could you possibly believe that there are countless people in this new place you’ve arrived who have your best interests in mind?
Support Beyond The Journey
Earlier this year, I shared about my experience with immigrant students at MSU Denver, noting the vulnerabilities to human trafficking facing that group. In fact, the very same risks exist for migrants who have steadily traveled toward safety and security. They, too, must deal with those who eagerly offer assistance but may not be doing so for humanitarian reasons. What’s tragic is that it is difficult to tell who is trustworthy, particularly when high stress and sleep-deprivation are part of the journey. Anyone offering safety, food, clothing or shelter may be doing so for purely exploitive reasons. Traffickers come in all identities and charm and deception are their weapons.
Returning to Kiefer’s profound images from his time with Customs and Border Protection, he reflects upon fellow employees, some of whom “…were nice people, as far as he could tell; others, he felt sure, would be taking Trump’s anti-immigrant invective as license for new cruelties.” This vague statement regarding cruelties has anti-trafficking advocates simultaneously shuddering and at the ready, for we are fully aware of those susceptible moments when false promises are a welcome respite from intense journeys.
Amidst heightened global awareness of migration and the risk of human trafficking, there are more communities developing resources that disrupt traffickers’ goals to exploit migrants. At the Laboratory to Combat Human Trafficking, we offer a 24/7 statewide hotline with trustworthy advocates knowledgeable about human trafficking. That hotline is supported by our Colorado Network to End Human Trafficking Resource Directory, boasting over 250 agencies at the ready to provide basic needs, interpretation, food, clothing, housing, and advocacy to help point the way to navigating available resources.
During this month’s Ascend Campaign at the Laboratory to Combat Human Trafficking, we’re advancing this critical line of support for survivors of human trafficking in Colorado. Together, we can make Colorado a leader with organized support for those who’ve endured a long journey in search of safety and security.