Monday, August 3, 2009

Walt Staton and The Splinter Generation

Walt Staton is a volunteer for No More Deaths, a humanitarian group working in the southern deserts of Arizona to give water and first aid to illegal immigrants crossing into the country. This past winter, while placing water jugs in key points along the border, Walt was handed a littering citation. He fought the ticket, and in June was found guilty by a jury. He is currently awaiting sentencing, which may include up to a year in prison or $10,000 in fines.

No matter what your stance on illegal immigration or the government's border policies, in the words of Walt, "you have to be a complete crazy wingnut to say I want people to die in the desert."

Photo by Holly Winters and taken from her blog at

Last month I had the good fortune to sit down and speak with Walt Staton on behalf of The Splinter Generation, the online literary journal I am poetry editor for. Seth Fischer, founding editor, offered me the assignment knowing my interest in immigration issues. The interview went live this morning at

Here is a piece:

Splinter Generation: When you actually see someone struggling in the desert, how does that change your original outlook?

Walt Staton: It starts to put the world in perspective. You start meeting real people. You meet moms, and you meet children, and you meet dads, and uncles, and grandpas, and you know, the people that I consider to be heroes. I mean these people are basically saying, “I refuse to raise my children in poverty, or I refuse to live in a situation where I can’t get a job that is dignified. I can’t live with dignity, so I’m moving.”

I think the courage of people to migrate is a really inspiring thing, but it’s kind of tough in a lot of ways because there isn’t a whole lot we can do. I mean, we are out there as medical people, and with food and water just to–– I guess if you find someone in their worst possible state, if they’re in real medical distress, then we can take them to a hospital or something. But the hardest part is realizing there is not a lot we can do. We can’t drive people places. So you meet these really amazing folks who are making a very powerful statement with their feet, you know, and you are just a little blip in their longer journey.

SG: How do you keep going?

WS: Ultimately, I think it’s the refugees and migrants themselves. I mean they are the ones who really have the journey to struggle through. I don’t know how to really explain it. But it’s sort of like it’s their lives that are in their hands, and I have a great deal respect for the people who make that choice to move for a better situation.

I think where we can blend into the struggle with people here in the United States is once refugees arrive and are being threatened by ICE or threatened by local police, I think that’s a big call for [all] us to respond and say, “No. These are our brothers and sisters, these are our neighbors, these could be family members, and we can’t just stand by.” That’s building our communities, and making it broader than just a couple of activists. I think it’s really important that we see ourselves in a community with all these people. That’s what keeps me going.

Photo by Holly Winters and taken from her blog at

A poem inspired by Walt Staton:

from The Watcher

The Watcher witnesses
statements with feet
stamped into sand,
sealed into the boarder
making migration official.

The Watcher protects
each statement
as if ancient folklore,
as if oral history
articulated with toes,
as if hieroglyphics swept
over by history and dust.

The Watcher is a guardian,
he is an anthropologist,
he is the archaeologist
of living history
and attempts to clean away
corrosion and neglect.

For the full interview with Walt Staton please go to