Border Journey – Beauty and death in the desert

Border Journey – Beauty and death in the desert

I went for a hike in a beautiful area of the desert with Samaritans and Desert Angels on August 14.

I went for a hike in a beautiful area of the desert with Samaritans and Desert Angels on August 14.  Unfortunately, the purpose of the hike wasn’t as pleasant as the scenery.  We were searching for the body of a woman who became exhausted and was left behind by the “coyote” (smuggler) that was guiding the group of migrants.

“Those are the rules of the coyote,” explained Ricardo.  “Everyone has their own limited amount of energy.  Sometimes it’s either you or the whole group.”  Slowing or stopping the trek for one person could mean everyone perishing from the heat and dehydration. 

Desert Angels is based in San Diego and they patrol the desert looking for migrants in need of water, food, and medical care.  The family of the woman we were looking for had called them last week.  Ricardo and three other members drove 500 miles from San Diego to Arivaca, Arizona on Friday, August 12.  They stayed at the No More Deaths camp where volunteers provide aid to migrants, hike the migrant trails, and leave jugs of water alongside the trails.

Ricardo also contacted Samaritans to assist with the search.  Samaritans go out on daily patrols in the region that includes Arivaca and I participated in their volunteer training on August 7.  This was my first outing with the organization – looking for the body of a 40-year-old woman who crossed the border at Sasabe three weeks ago and was left behind somewhere near Arivaca.

Ricardo and the others had hiked along one of the main trails on the north side of Arivaca Road the day before.  We decided to hike a loop on two primary trails south of the road.  We saw footprints, empty water bottles, and discarded clothing and daypacks.  As we were approaching the top of a hill, we saw several one-gallon water jugs that had been placed under a tree by volunteers of No More Deaths. 

When we were hiking back on the other trail we saw more than a dozen similar jugs strewn alongside the trail.  They were all empty, yet some still had the caps on.  We looked closer and realized they had been shot and slashed open.  Someone had deliberately destroyed the water that was placed in the desert for migrants – water that could have possibly saved the life of the woman we were searching for. 

“How could anyone do such a thing?” I asked myself.  I then realized that the people who did this horrendous act were just following the example set by the government.  The current border policy is based on “deterrence.”  The Clinton administration built walls and stationed more agents in urban areas along the border where crossing had been relatively easy.  The goal was to “Raise the risk…to the point that many will consider it futile to attempt illegal entry…Illegal traffic will be deterred or forced over more hostile terrain less suited for crossing.”  That policy was expanded by George Bush and has been escalated even further by Barack Obama.

Migrants have been funneled from California and Texas towards the desert of southern Arizona.  More than 6,000 people have died while attempting to cross into the U.S. from Mexico since Bill Clinton began this policy in 1994.  Nearly half of those people died here in Arizona, including 253 last year. 

Ricardo and his fellow angels left for San Diego after our hike in order to be back at work on Monday morning.   Miguel took a lot of photos of the area where we hiked that he will share with the woman’s family.  They might be able to provide additional clues based on those photos to narrow the search and the Desert Angels could return to continue looking for her.