The Backpackers/ Los Mochileros • Petra Barth signed
Hardbound, 15 1/4" x 10 3/4", 2017, essay by Robert T. Philips, self-published.
Prof. Michael Dear/ University of California
For the past ten years, I have focused on documenting the human, social and environmental issues that faced the Americas. I found myself especially drawn to the plight of immigrants in the border area, which divides Mexico and the United States.
Of all the borders dividing the US with Mexico, Nogales has seen the largest number of undocumented migrants during the last decade and the greatest number of recovered remains of migrants who perished in the extreme conditions of the southern Arizona desert.
Far fewer migrants from Mexico are successfully entering the US illegally than a decade ago due to stepped up border enforcement. Many are getting caught and quite a few are giving way before crossing the border. The US has spent billions since 2005 on border security and there is evidence that the spending has significantly deterred illegal border crossing. The Department of Homeland Security estimates, that the probability that an illegal immigrant from Mexico will be caught by the Border Patrol, has raised from about 36 percent in 2005 to about 54 percent in 2015.
Many of the migrants deported to the Mexican side end up at the San Juan Bosco shelter in a quiet neighborhood south to the border in Nogales, Sonora. The shelter, which is operated by Francisco and Gilda Loureiro with the help of their family and private donations since 1982 is open daily for those deported by the US authorities and dumped at the Mexican side of the border. Despite the fact that fewer migrants are trying to cross into the US, the misery of those who do is shocking and the suffering profound.
Over the last three years I have photographed on both sides of the border in Nogales, following deported migrants as well migrants who tried to cross the border to either find work or to reunite with their families who already live in the US. I wanted to know more about these people, called migrants or illegals and learn why do they risk their life to cross this unforgiving desert? We all have seen many photographs from migrants on their route. In my photographs, I put the focus on the faces, to create an emotional connection between the viewer and the subject and at the same time to evoke interest in the individual story.