"If you had told me back in 2000 when I started taking water into the desert that I would still be doing these trips in 2014, I'd have called you crazy....I thought we would fix the problem by now." -Karl, Humane Borders VolunteerIt was a hot one today, or as Arizonans like to call it "warm", as our new friends Scott and Karl took us on a water run with Humane Borders, one of Tucson's humanitarian groups working to prevent undocumented border crosser deaths. We serviced a couple of water stations to the south of Tucson, mostly driving two lane paved highways until we reached the dirt roads that led directly to the water. We checked the barrels for water levels and vandalism, as Karl pointed out the trails and washes that migrants and border patrol often use.
The most common water station consists of a plastic barrel with a spigot and a flag marking its location that is visible from the surrounding area. Their locations are determined from the Red Dotted Map that marks where all UBC deaths are found. Some water stations are on ranching land, an access point through a trough or spigot. Humane Borders only puts water stations in places where they have written and legal permission from either the land owners or the county. The resources that go into recovering remains has led to some cooperation between ranchers, humanitarian groups, and local government.
After learning yesterday the harsh reality of so many deaths in the desert, it felt all the more important to stand under the unrelenting sun, with the flies buzzing around, and imagine myself in another's shoes. Of course it is a mild, G-rated comparison at best; this is hardly the hottest time of year, I do not have to spend the day and night walking, nor do I have to avoid border patrol.
These water stations are crucial for many people who walk their way across the border. Migrants only have the water they can carry, either in their hands or in a backpack and that is if it isn't gone by the time they make it to the border. Often the "coyotes" or human traffickers will demand that those traveling with them only carry a single gallon jug claiming they know where to refill. Some coyotes know where to find water and some do not. It is a game of gamble and trust. Coyotes also claim it will be a day's walk from the border to Tucson, whatever they can do or say to take advantage of the migrant's lack of knowledge and receive payment. Those who cannot keep up are left behind and death by desert is not pleasant.
There is still so much I don't know or understand. There are laws and trade agreements and other such legal jargon that our government has put into place that has helped create a need for the migrants to seek employment to support their families. There is also a great need for migrants to work in the U.S., to take the labor jobs that American citizens wouldn't dream of doing for wages that are far below what one would find acceptable. And yet the U.S. government has beefed up border security and made the path for these workers much more dangerous, with the consequences far greater.... I just don't get it.
What I do know, is that I am thankful for groups like Humane Borders. Who see beyond the politics to the human beings who deserve life. There is a face and a name and a family to that set of bones laying in the medical examiner's office. We may not be able to easily solve the greater issues of a broken immigration system. But this. This we can do. A simple drink of water. Life.