368. 368 illegal immigrants were confirmed to have died crossing the United States-Mexico border in the fiscal year 2011. This number is significant and does not even include the bodies that have not been found. Little is known about the actual journey of migrants who cross the southwest border into the United States. Those who do not live in Southern California, Texas, Arizona or New Mexico live their lives without thinking a second about this considerable migration and suffering happening on U.S. soil.
I spent a month the summer after junior year in high school volunteering for a humanitarian aid organization located in Tucson. I worked for Humane Borders, a faith-based organization that operates water stations in the Arizona desert for migrant use while they are crossing the desert. While working with Humane Borders I learned many things about migrants’ journeys across the desert along with how border patrol treats them when they are caught and apprehended.
One of the most disturbing things I learned during my time working on the border are the tactics U.S. Border Patrol uses to deter migrants from crossing the border successfully. First, in attempt to deter migrants from crossing the border, Border Patrol has increased their presence and efforts along flat land, forcing migrants to cross mountainous regions, which increases their likelihood of perishing. Another deterrent used by the U.S. Border Patrol is helicopter “dusting” in which the helicopter flies over a group of migrants, striking up dust so the migrants cannot see and thus causing them to scatter in all different directions. This causes group members to get lost from one another and from their coyote; it disorients them and increases the chance of death. Along with this, Border Patrol will send dogs after the migrants in hopes to round them up, like cattle. The third deterrent I learned about occurs after migrants are apprehended. When Border Patrol apprehends groups or families, they deport the members to different cities in their native country to decrease their likelihood of finding another or at least slowing the process. Along with this, Border Patrol takes all migrants’ belongings including address books so they once deported; they have more difficulty finding loved ones and friends and thus cannot plan another journey across the border as quickly.
Migrants’ journeys are anything but pleasurable. First off, migrants usually pay a coyote to take them across the desert into the United States. These coyotes know they can get a reasonable sum from clients and thus over charge, some asking for 3 or 4 thousand dollars, which is usually all migrants have. Along the journey, women are more often than not raped by their coyotes, members of their group or migrants from other groups. Migrants are also robbed and sometimes violently assaulted by gangs or bandits hiding out in the desert. Migrants suffer from both dehydration and starvation during their journey. Some migrants are forced to drink water from cattle ponds that have bacteria, causing very severe illness. Migrants due to the long journey developed blisters and when it is summer in the desert, the ground heat burns through shoe soles and burns their feet. Many migrants survive despite these harsh conditions, but some do not, dying alone only to be buried under the name of “John Doe” or “Jane Doe”, if found. These are not all the circumstances migrants face while crossing the border, but they give a good idea of what migrants go through.
Let us not overlook what these people are putting themselves through just to come to the United States for a better life . Let us remember those whose lives have been lost and aim to have no one else go through this painful and devastating journey.