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Wasserman writes: "Southern Arizona is experiencing record temperatures. Last week, it reached a high of 115 degrees for three days in a row. Despite this heat, every day hundreds of people fleeing poverty and violence in Central America and Mexico begin a long, treacherous journey across the US-Mexico border."

No More Deaths humanitarian aid camp near the US border of Mexico. (photo: Josh Haner/New York Times)
No More Deaths humanitarian aid camp near the US border of Mexico. (photo: Josh Haner/New York Times)


Border Patrol's Crackdown on Aid Camp in Arizona Desert Will Result in Deaths for Migrants and Refugees

By Anika Wasserman, The Boston Globe

29 June 17

 

outhern Arizona is experiencing record temperatures. Last week, it reached a high of 115 degrees for three days in a row. Despite this heat, every day hundreds of people fleeing poverty and violence in Central America and Mexico begin a long, treacherous journey across the US-Mexico border. Aside from the ruthless terrain, with its scorpions, rattlesnakes, razor-sharp cacti, and flash floods, the merciless Sonoran Desert is lethal all on its own. Last month, I volunteered at the only permanent humanitarian aid camp based in Southern Arizona and witnessed how the US government wields the desert as a weapon.

No More Deaths is a volunteer-based ministry of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Tucson that operates a base camp offering medical care, food, water, and shade to those crossing the border. There I met many young men, primarily from Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, who had left their native countries in search of jobs, family, and safety. Women and children, young and old, cross as well, but less frequently. I have found tattered children’s shoes abandoned along paths. It is hard to fully process the fact that children are crossing the Sonoran Desert before they graduate from Velcro to laces. It is virtually impossible to generalize migrants’ stories. Their levels of education, political beliefs, and motives are distinct and complex. However, in my work with migrant communities on both the US-Mexico border and the Guatemala-Mexico border, migrants repeatedly told me that they see crossing not as a choice but as a necessity for survival. Since the year 2000, more than 6,000 migrants have died in their desperate attempts to cross the desert.

No More Deaths (No Más Muertes) works from a camp on the outskirts of Arivaca, Ariz., a small township a few miles north of Nogales, Mexico. I spent my time there hiking well-traveled migration routes with other volunteers, dropping gallons of water and cans of beans at strategically determined water drop sites, often passing sun-bleached backpacks and threadbare camo. US Border Patrol has established immigration checkpoints along main roads from Nogales to Tucson, thereby funneling migrants into the perilous heart of the desert. This technique is called prevention by deterrence, but the actual effect is often deterrence by death. Volunteers find human remains, on average, every three days.

Once, as we descended the side of a canyon to our next drop site, we found a migrant separated from his group. He had been walking for over a week, drinking water from a local cattle tank and chewing on prickly pears. After offering him water, food, and medical care, we decided he needed continued treatment. Someone who is dehydrated and alone in the desert is at a high risk of getting lost, confused, and ultimately disappearing, like thousands of others who have crossed before. Border Patrol helicopters often scatter groups, increasing chances that migrants will end up on their own.

Under the Trump administration, Border Patrol has increased militarized surveillance of the No More Deaths base camp. Their visible presence dissuades migrants from seeking necessary medical care and terrorizes patients already receiving it. This has been an ongoing issue for many weeks, but the growing tension between desert aid workers and Border Patrol peaked on June 15.

For the first time in 13 years, Tucson Sector Border Patrol violated longstanding agreements with No More Deaths not to interfere with their humanitarian aid work. After tracking a group of four men for 18 miles, 30 armed border patrol agents, 15 vehicles, and a helicopter surrounded the camp, obtained a warrant, raided the clinic, and arrested the four men receiving medical care. Border Patrol tracked this group for hours before strategically detaining them at the camp.

This raid set a new precedent and risks rendering the organization’s services ineffective by deterring migrants from seeking humanitarian aid. It sends the message that people crossing the desert are unworthy of medical care, food, and water: unworthy of life. Tougher border policy is not just political rhetoric — it is death by dehydration, without a funeral.

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