Frequently Asked Questions About Travel to the US / Mexico border

1. Why travel to the US/Mexico border?

Since 1999 over 8,000 remains of people who have died attempting to cross the border have been found along the US/ Mexico border. This under-reported crisis of death is also a crisis of disappearance, as thousands more have vanished in the desert, their remains never having been found or identified. This human tragedy is a direct result of US government policies. Both policies in Latin America, specifically Mexico and the Northern Triangle (Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala) that drive refugees and migrants to attempt the deadly crossing; and border enforcement policies, which have turned a historically open border into a death trap.

Understanding these policies is fundamental to pushing back against them. As border policing and militarization has dramatically increased over the past decades, the border has permeated all parts of life in the United States. By traveling to the Arizona/ Mexico border US residents can gain a deeper understanding of how the militarized border apparatus functions and what the depth and scope of the humanitarian crisis on the border truly is. The experiences and understandings gained on a delegation to the US/ Mexico border will help participants build solidarity with front-line communities and draw connections to the struggles taking place where they themselves live.

2. What documentation should I bring on this delegation?

  • US Citizens – your passport or driver’s license
  • Permanent residents – your unexpired green card and a valid state/federal ID card
  • TPS – your EAD and a state or federal ID card. (As rules are always in flux, you should consult with an immigration attorney before traveling south of Border Patrol inland checkpoints)
  • DACA – your EAD and a state or federal ID card. (As rules are always in flux, you should consult with an immigration attorney before traveling south of Border Patrol inland checkpoints)
  • Undocumented –It is not safe to travel south of Border Patrol inland checkpoints without documentation.

3. What travel risks exist for non-citizens travelling to the border?

Special Tip! If you are a citizen, or have authorization to be in the US (visa/green card/TPS) bring your passport and documents to Arizona!

Arizona can be a more dangerous place to travel for people without status because of checkpoints and police stops that often involve questioning about immigration status (because of SB 1070).

  • A checkpoint is similar to an international border crossing — immigration will likely ask and are allowed to ask for your documents when crossing. See below for what happens at a checkpoint
  • South of the checkpoints there are many Border Patrol agents who patrol the area. Border Patrol can take non-citizens into custody and can detain citizens and transfer them to local law enforcement custody if they are suspected of committing a crime. See below for more information about being taken into custody as a non-citizen.

4. I’m not a citizen: What Happens if I am Arrested by Police or ICE? 

If you are a non-citizen arrested by the police, you very likely will be transferred to ICE to an immigration detention center. You can try to bond out of the jail but if you have a hold, the jail will not let you be released from the jail. All the jails in the area will accept ICE’s “holds” which allows ICE to request that someone they think is undocumented should be transferred to ICE custody. Special risk! You are most likely to be transferred if ICE believes you are undocumented, are not a citizen and you have committed a crime that makes you deportable, already have a deportation order on your immigration record.

Once you are transferred to immigration detention, you will either have to stay detained or you might be able to bond out of immigration detention. Special risk! In general, if you have a prior deportation order or a serious criminal charges (see below for more details) you cannot bond out of immigration detention.

See this list of “mandatory detention” crimes that do not let you bond out of immigration detention.

For more information, see ACLU’s rights on the border.

 5. What can I expect when crossing through a border patrol checkpoint?

Immigration agents have set up checkpoints within 100 miles of the border in Arizona. All persons within 100 miles of a border could be stopped and questioned about their immigration status by Customs and Border Patrol.

Check your route to see if there is a checkpoint — This link takes you to a google map in which known temporary and permanent CBP checkpoints are located. Author and reliability of this information are unknown, but checkpoint locations appear to be correct.

At a checkpoint, Border Patrol may stop vehicles to: (1) ask a few, limited questions to verify citizenship of the vehicles’ occupants and (2) visually inspect the exterior of a vehicle.

  • Agents may send any vehicle to a secondary inspection area for the same purpose: brief questioning and visual inspection.
  • Agents should not ask questions unrelated to verifying citizenship, nor can they hold you for an extended time without cause.

Can I stay silent?

Even though you always have the right to remain silent, if you don’t answer questions to establish your citizenship, officials may detain you longer in order to verify your immigration status.

Can CBP search my car?

Border Patrol cannot search the interior of a car without the owner’s consent or “probable cause” (a reasonable belief, based on the circumstances, that an immigration violation or crime has likely occurred), BUT agents can obtain probable cause for a search if a drug-sniffing dog legitimately “alerts” to the presence of drugs.

Also, it is important to be aware that the rights of citizens and non-citizens a like are at times violated at checkpoints and agents may act outside of the limited scope of power proscribed to them by law. It is impossible to tell exactly what any given interaction at a Border Patrol checkpoint will include but it is important to be aware that these interactions can be unpredictable. You have the right to document these interactions if they occur. Remember that it is always legal to record a public official operating in a public capacity.

6. What will the weather be like?

In summer months, weather in the Sonoran desert is usually very hot and sunny during the day and warm to cool at night, with daytime temperatures often exceeding 100 degrees Fahrenheit. In the winter months the temperature ranges from warm to cool in the day and drops at night, often to below freezing. From mid July to mid October there are usually heavy frequent rains while the rest of the year remains pretty dry. It is always a good idea to check the weather in advance of any trip to the desert.

7. What should I pack?

For a delegation to the US/Mexico border, you should pack comfortable clothes, as you should be prepared for long car rides and lots of walking around. You should bring nice clothes, as you would for work as well as lightweight long sleeves and lightweight long pants and hiking boots or comfortable walking shoes, a hiking backpack and water bottles. Although the weather will be very hot, there are many prickly plants in the desert and covering up can help you avoid getting scratched as well as sunburned. A hat and sunscreen to further protect you from the sun are also recommended.  Depending on the delegation, it is also possible you will also need a tent and sleeping bag and anything else you may want to make yourself comfortable while camping.

8. Where will the delegation stay?

 Most delegations will stay at a combination of hotels, ranch houses and guest houses where you will share a room with a roommate or you can opt for a single room for an additional rate. Some delegations are lower priced for students or people on a tighter budget. Lodging may be in more dormitory style accommodations or camping and not at a traditional hotel.

9. What is a typical delegation day like?

We will plan a full slate of meetings and activities for this delegation. Each day will start with a fairly early breakfast (7:30-or so). There may be one or two meetings, activities or events before lunch, as well as afternoon activities and some evenings planned. Every evening we will make time for an optional group check in or reflection to debrief the days activities. There will be a few days where we travel for an hour or two to reach different communities that we will be visiting. We typically meet with social organizations and community organizers and visit border communities in southern Arizona that are under occupation by the heavily militarized Border Patrol and Customs and Border Protection and that are subject to additional paramilitary presence by militia groups.

10. Will I be able to make phone calls? Will I have access to internet/email?

Access to Internet and phones may not always be available or may be difficult to find time for on this delegation. In some border communities certain cell phone carriers may not get service, while other carriers may be able to make calls and receive messages without issue. Some carriers may incur international roaming fees close to the border. You will need to check with your cell phone service provider to see if your service will work close to the border and you may want to disable international roaming on your device. While there is WIFI available some of the accommodation locations, not all places visited by the delegation will have Internet. We suggest you tell your friends and family that no news is good news and they should not expect to hear from you daily.