140 people died crossing the US-Mexico border in 2013.
OSCAR LEÓN, TRNN PRODUCER: In 2013, Immigration and Customs Enforcement reported a total of 369,000 removals of “illegal aliens”. A large part of that total, 235,000, were deportations of individuals detained while trying to enter the U.S. border. If you compare that number to the 590,000 detained on 2004, it is clear that less people tries to enter the south border illegally.
At the same time, in the fall, The Arizona Daily Star reported 140 deaths in the border, a number that according to ICE has remained steady over the last decade, meaning more died on proportion trying to cross the desert.
This is an undocumented immigrant describing the dangers of crossing the border.
UNNAMED “ILLEGAL ALIEN” (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): It took, like, 18 hours of a real battle against the heat and then the cold. And then … God bless we made it here [inside U.S.] I was very tired and I began to doubt it … They tell you that “we are about to get there”, and it’s not true—they’re still a long way. Water runs out and … you know, you get scared of getting lost, or who knows what else can happen. As there is no more water and you are so tired, you start to fail and to think about surrender if they find you. It feels ugly … imagine how difficult it is for women. Crossing the desert is a struggle. The steps feel eternal. Walking is hard, and you are tired. It feels like you are not progressing anymore.
LEÓN: The guards apprehended six people out of the group we just saw on the thermal camera. Here they come.
GROUP OF DETAINED IMMIGRANTS (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): We are really sad and tired now. Also, look at the thorns. There are so many thorns.
LEÓN (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): Hard trip?
UNNAMED: We will never surrender. Never!
LEÓN: Do you think they can stop you with fences and walls?
UNNAMED: No, never! Where else can we get a decent house, a car, a job? We all just want to improve our lives. It is the governments’ fault. There is money here [in the U.S.] That is why we keep coming.
LEÓN: No More Deaths is an organization that works to “end death and suffering on the U.S./Mexico border”. Since 2004 they have provided water and emergency supplies to those in need.
GENE VALEE, FOUNDER NO MORE DEATHS: What’s been happening is that the percentage of people dying has gone up in the last two or three years, more than what it was before. There are more people dying per thousand coming across because of those factors. One of them is more people are arriving at the border without the money to hire guides to make the trip, trying it on their own. And secondly, they are going—they’re being pushed more by law enforcement into the mountains. These are the things that have changed.
There are certainly fewer Mexican people coming into the United States, and there are more people from Honduras, where there has been a lot of violence in the last couple of years. And there’s still a continuing large number of people from Guatemala who are coming in for the same reason.
LEÓN: The University of Arizona found that “economic conditions in Central America, coupled with increasing violence there, is pushing more Central Americans to migrate north”.
VALEE: In the last couple of years, we’ve seen a great increase in the number of people who were picked up inland United States by ICE and taken to the border and dropped. And those people often have family that are United States citizens, their children or maybe their spouses. And they’re picked up on a traffic violation, and within a couple of days they’re dropped at the border, on the other side of the border.
And they have no resources. So they come without money. They come without contacts. Many don’t have any contacts in Mexico because it’s been 20 years or so since they were there. And they’re left without resources. So there’s been a tremendous need. And these people are often turning right around and trying to come back into the United States.
LEÓN: Back in the summer of 2010, The Real News spoke to agent Norman Dotti, public relations attaché from Tucson’s Boder Patrol, who on a ride-along patrolling the border, at 105 Fahrenheit degrees, explained the effects of excessive heat.
NORMAN DOTTI, BORDER PATROL AGENT: Yes, a gallon per hour, especially in this environment, a gallon per hour when you’re walking in this heat and you’re sweating profusely. And then, once you run out of water, actually, from sweating and you can’t cool off anymore, and then the body starts to take—serious problems are happening with the body. And, again, they bring these water bottles that are just not enough for the journey they’re going to be taking. And if they’re not hydrated before they start this journey, the odds for them becoming very dehydrated is increased.
LEÓN: But you dehydrate even under a shadow in the desert?
DOTTI: Yeah, yes, you do. If you—once you start losing fluids by sweating and trying to cool yourself down to counteract the heat in the environment, once you run out it starts snowballing and you start becoming—the body starts shutting down ’cause it can’t handle that temperature. And even though you’re in the shade, that helps just a little bit. It helps to take some of the heat off.
But you’re still in the environment and the heat is still there. The heat hasn’t gone away. I’ve seen it get 110 here. I’ve seen it get—I’ve been out here when it’s been 112, 115. I don’t know what the top, the peak temperature would be or what time of year the peak temperature would be, but it does get very hot out here.
VALEE: In the same area, in the same place, really, that some of the people were coming from the south in the 1980s, it’s been happening in recent years. So some of us that were out there then came back together and said, what are we going to do? And we decided, well, we’ve got to get water into the desert. These people are dying. That’s number one.
And from that, three organizations developed. Humane Borders, which puts water tanks in the desert, has about 80 water tanks along the border, and people can go to those. They see a blue flag, and they go over and have water. And a second group, called Samaritans, that are people that go out of Tucson and Green Valley, and they take along a medical person and a Spanish speaker, and they look for people in trouble, and they give them food and first aid and water and help that way. And then we started No More Deaths, because people were still dying. And No More Deaths stays in the desert.
LEÓN: These are the tanks full of water in the desert, and these are distress signals for those who will need it and are lucky enough to make it here. The desert is full of many dangers. According to Dotti, not only all kinds of thorns, but also sudden holes and gullies are known to cause major harm, and sometimes death, to those who break legs or even hurt ankles.
DOTTI: You would need some help if you were to fall here and injure your leg or hit your head on a rock.
LEÓN: After apprehending a group of people crossing the border, the agents search through their things and try to get as much information as they can. Dotti sends them away. And then he finds another track, possibly another individual or group. However, these tracks seem to be more confused and out of purpose.
I followed the agent, and we found a man badly dehydrated. He asked me to encourage him to drink water, since the man is scared of his uniform, and I quickly talked to him in Spanish.
The man is agonizing, coming in and out of consciousness. Agent Dotti wouldn’t let me film at first, but after I managed to make the man drink water, he allowed me to take these images of the man talking to Esmeralda Marroquin, a border patrol agent from Mexican descent that arrived shortly after.
ESMERALDA MARROQUIN, BORDER PATROL AGENT (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): You are going to be okay.
MAN (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): Just now… we just wanted to… We were just trying … we … we were … just a bit more … And he is dead now. He is dead. My cousin is dead!
MARROQUIN (ENGLISH): Somebody’s out there dead. Somebody died.
MAN: It is too sunny.
LEÓN: I later found out from border patrol that the man had survived and had been deported back to Mexico after a period in jail.
Reporting for The Real News this is Oscar León.