report back from the border

October 5th, 2010 by brooke

photo credit: steve johnston

This summer I took a month off of this urban farming pursuit and went down to the Arizona/Mexico border to work with a humanitarian aid organization called No More Deaths whose mission is to end the deaths and suffering of folks migrating to the United States. The organization is completely initiated and run by dedicated local volunteers and visiting volunteers from around the country. Its work is based on the ideal of Civil Initiative, the belief that communities must organize and take power to uphold humanitarian rights when states or nations cannot or refuse to do so. Every day members of the group hike trails, drop off hundreds of gallons of water and food in remote parts of the desert, and are available on encounter with migrants to provide medical attention. No More Deaths also staffs a desert medical aid tent and Resource Centers in the border towns of Nogales and Agua Prieta. (For more info about the work and mission of NMD check out the July blog post or visit their website:

A complex political and human tragedy is unfolding on our border. It is devastating and confusing to witness even just a slice of it. Every year hundreds of thousands of Mexican and Central Americans set out on a life-threatening journey across mountainous, desert terrain in order to meet family and find work in the U.S. Every year hundreds of these migrants get lost, injured, raped or attacked along the way. They die from hyperthermia, hypothermia, other illness or acts of violence. In the desert on a summer day, temperatures can soar to 120 degrees and flash rainstorms can produce instant rivers. Ironically on the same day that one migrant might die of hyperthermia–dehydration and heat-exposure, another could die in the same terrain from hypothermia–exposure to cold and wet. I arrived in July and there had been 51 recorded deaths in the month of June alone. The statistic would double or triple if it included the bodies of people who had perished in places so remote that they were never found.

The Sonoran desert is heart-wrenchingly beautiful at times. The sky is so broad and clear, the mountains peppered with flowering cacti and craggy canyons shaded by silver oaks. Living in it for one month and hiking across its wild topography gave me a vivid sense of just how treacherous this migration is. I had to drink water constantly and if I ran out towards the end of a hike I quickly lost energy and got a headache. Medical experts have evaluated that the average adult needs to drink 17 litters of water a day in these conditions to stay healthy, making it practically impossible to carry enough water to maintain proper hydration for even one day. Depending on their route and their luck, migrants are walking between 4 and 10 days. We were counseled to assume that any migrant that we met on the trails would be either moderately or severely dehydrated.

I had so much to say about the border it was hard to stop writing. If you would like to read more click here

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