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Helping the stranger at her door

A longtime Ashland resident who’s found herself helping the migrant population at the Arizona border has just published her second book.

Peg Bowden will co-present her book “A Stranger at My Door — Finding My Humanity at the U.S./Mexico Border” at 7 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 5, at The Rogue Valley Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, 87 Fourth St.

Bowden said her book is a true story about an undocumented immigrant who knocked on her door of her ranch home in the Arizona desert miles away from civilization.

Freezing out and just days before Christmas, the man told her had been lost in the desert for four days. “When he knocked on our door, he was more dead than alive,” Bowden said.

Bowden’s family took him in for a few days and allowed him to regain his strength.

“It’s against the law in Arizona to help an undocumented person,” Bowden said. “If you can’t help someone who’s nearly dead who comes to your door asking for help, what kind of a country is this?”

She said she did everything in her power to get him to his destination of Nashville, Tennessee, but he was caught and deported back to his remote village in Guatemala after serving several months in a U.S. prison.

She said she drove three hours every other week to visit him in the prison in 2013, then tracked him down in Guatemala in 2015 to check up on him.

She helped him start a small butchering business, which has now expanded to include cheese production, a taco stand and a herd of cattle he raises with his family. She said the last time she saw him he was doing very well for himself.

She said the book is about the failures she made while trying to help him, how she ultimately couldn’t help him because of U.S. immigration policy.

Bowden said the book was ready for publication in 2016, but she was too afraid to publish when President Donald Trump was elected. So, after making minor edits to protect everyone involved, she ultimately decided to publish this September because she wants people to know the truth. She said she hasn’t received any legal backlash yet.

She lived and worked in the Rogue Valley for 30 years as a Jackson County public health nurse and SOU faculty member. She moved back to her home state of Arizona after retirement in 2002 and didn’t start aiding immigrants until 2011.

It is the last thing Bowden ever thought she’d do in her retirement, she said, but it’s the most gratifying work she’s ever performed.

Her ranch is about a 30-minute drive into town. On her half-hour commute, Bowden said she’d often see border patrol standing guard over a group of young men on the shoulder of the road and stop to see if they needed water or help. She said the agent would brush her off and make it clear that she should move on every time.

“These people were supposed to be the terrorists invading our country and I’d think ‘they don’t look like terrorists at all; they look like scared kids,’” Bowden said. “That really weighed on my conscience.”

She said the 2011 shooting of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and 18 others really opened her eyes to what is happening.

“I thought, ‘there’s something terrible going on in terms of our democracy ... and I can’t sit back and watch it happen. I have to get more involved with the immigration process,’” Bowden said.

She said the stories the immigrants have shared with her at the shelter are profound.

“What happens in Mexico to make people leave their life behind, grab their small children and walk 1,000 miles to a country where so many people despise them?” Bowden asked. “I hear their dreams and goals, and it’s very moving. People are incredible. The drive of love for family, willing to risk your life because you want the best for your children is an amazing thing.”

This is her second published book which can be found online at Amazon, Barns & Nobles, Target and Bloomsbury Books in Ashland.

Her first book “A Land of Hard Edges” focuses on the samaritan work and desert searches and is also available online.

The Dec. 5 reading is sponsored by the Peace House and the RVUUF Social Justice and Action Committee.

Bowden said we must change the way we welcome people into our country, because the current process isn’t humane.

“Maybe it’s the law,” Bowden suggests. “Not too long ago we said gay people can’t marry. When I grew up it was illegal for black people to go into the bathrooms in Chicago. Those laws were wrong, and I think our immigration laws are wrong.”

Contact Tidings reporter Caitlin Fowlkes at cfowlkes@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4496. Follow her on Twitter @cfowlkes6.

The book cover of Peg Bowden's newest book "A Stranger at My Door." Photo courtesy of Bowden.{ }