PHOENIX — When migrants arrive at the U.S. border seeking asylum, they carry both the weight of their journey and the weight of their backpacks. 

“I want us to close our eyes and think for a second. What would you put in that backpack?” asked Pedro de Velasco, director of education and advocacy at the Kino Border Initiative.

He addressed a crowd of about 50 people gathered on Thursday at the First Church United Church of Christ in Phoenix to call for action to protect migrants’ rights.

“What important items would you carry with yourself to this journey to an unknown country, probably never to return?” Velasco said. 

“You’re probably thinking about pictures of your children, of your loved ones. You’re probably thinking about letters from your family, from your relatives, encouraging words. You’re probably thinking about prayers, the Bible, the crucifix,” Velasco continued. “You’re also probably thinking about basic needs. You know, your passport, your birth certificate, proof of your case (of asylum).”

Advocacy groups say Border Patrol agents in Yuma are forcing migrants to abandon items like the ones Velasco mentioned.  

Nathalie Hernandez Barahona, a first-generation Chicana who works with the AZ-CA Humanitarian Coalition organization, said medications, shoes and clothing were also some of the items migrants were leaving behind after their long journeys to the border.

“I will never forget seeing a wheelchair at the border wondering how that individual continued with their journey,” Hernandez Barahona said.

She recalled how her father told her that when he migrated to the United States, his personal property was confiscated and thrown away. This was in the 1980s, she said.

“These practices cause so much sadness and despair for those seeking a better life …This has been happening for far too long,” Hernandez Barahona said.

The Uncage & Reunite Families Coalition organized the news conference to “expose” this treatment. People held posters with statements such as “Yuma’s border patrol’s trash is immigrants’ treasure,” and signs with phrases like “Stop cruelty” or “Stop bullying” were around the church.