In representation of the 11 million undocumented workers in the country, 11 mothers accompanied by supporters embarked on a 400-mile walk from Merced to the U.S.-Mexico border on Tuesday morning.
Organizers of the Trail for Humanity gathered at Sacred Heart Church for a community send-off before heading to Chowchilla, the first of 19 stops in the 30-day march.
The demonstration comes in the midst of an influx of migrant children from Central America, whose arrival has stirred up controversy in several parts of California. These children are fleeing violence and poverty in their home countries, and to not grant them protection is inhumane, walk organizers said.
Cindy Gonzalez, one of the mothers participating in the trek, said the goal is to put pressure on the Obama administration to find a solution and halt deportations that separate families.
“Organizing the Trail for Humanity is something very personal for me,” Gonzalez told a crowd of supporters. “My mom crossed that border pregnant with me. ... She was fleeing rape and poverty, and right now those mothers that are crossing the border are just wanting to give a better life for their children.
“And for all the children that are trying to cross that border, that are being put in those deportation centers, this is dedicated to them,” she added.
According to reports, about 57,000 migrant children traveling alone, mostly from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, have been arrested since October 2013. About 55,000 people traveling as families have also been detained by the Border Patrol.
Valeska Castaneda, founder of Trail for Humanity, said the planning for the walk began in March. Castaneda said the group of women isn’t associated or funded by any organization, but relies heavily on donations and the goodwill of people who have arranged to lodge them along the way.
“We are just a group of mothers who decided enough was enough” Castaneda said. “We needed to take a stand, so here we are.”
The mothers were joined by people from across the Central Valley who stopped in Merced to show their support for the cause.
Adriana Meza, a student who will be transferring to Fresno State in the fall, said she came out to support the walkers because she can relate to the migrant children.
“I’m out here, first of all, because I’m an undocumented student,” Meza said. “I was brought here as a child, so I know what those children are going through … coming here as a child, not knowing what awaits you – it’s hard.”
“We need to start making a difference, no matter how small or simple,” she added. “Supporting these mothers today, it’s important for me.”
Tuesday’s community gathering included prayer, chanting and a call for unity.
“This march is important because these women are making a sacrifice to educate communities,” said Gloria Sandoval, organizer with the California Central Valley Journey for Justice. “Something that most of the general public does not understand is why these children flee their home countries, and it’s because they have very limited opportunities.”
Organizers expect to be joined by marchers as they head south. The final destination is Friendship Park in San Diego.