Humanitarian group Border Angels estimates that since 1994, some 10,000 migrants have lost their lives attempting to cross the U.S./Mexico border, dying of dehydration and exposure in the searing desert sun, where temperatures can climb as high as 127 degrees during the day. In Brooks County, Texas, “the bodies and remains of more than 550 undocumented migrants have been discovered.” Hundreds of unidentified bodies, with no way for them to be claimed, are buried in graves in California, Arizona, and Texas, some with markers from Border Angels reading "Not forgotten” and "In our hearts.” But just as important as bringing dignity to the dead is the work Border Angels does for the living. Mother Jones’ Al Kamalizado:
Border Angels is an immigrant-advocacy group that organizes hikes into the southern California desert to distribute water along various routes for migrants crossing the US-Mexico border. Last month, along with about 40 volunteers, I tagged along to film one of these “water drops.” After five hours working under the desert sun, a handful of the Border Angels crew hung around a gas station parking lot. Snacks and sodas in hand, they traded laughs and stories from the trek as the border wall loomed in the valley over their shoulders. Some had a close personal connection to someone who had previously crossed: a father, a grandfather, a girlfriend. But some did not.
In his “Instagram mini-series,” Kamalizado captured the life-saving yet heart-wrenching work of Border Angels humanitarian workers, hundreds of whom regularly leave jugs of water throughout the desert with brightly colored tags and written messages including “Keep going,” “God is with you,” and “Love without borders.” While the water jugs themselves are left in visible spots on rocks and other formations so that they can be visible to anyone in crisis, the overall locations themselves are kept secret because anti-immigrant vigilantes have been known to intentionally slash water jugs, according to Border Angels.
In the Instagram series, members say their work has never been political because it’s been about saving lives, but there’s no denying Donald Trump’s nativism has pushed outraged citizens to action—signups to join water drop-offs surged the month of the presidential election, according to Mother Jones. The Instagram series captures various volunteers moved to tears after placing themselves in the shoes of immigrants who make this treacherous journey, encountering a discarded bag along a trail. “What would you bring on a one way trip when you know it could be your last trip?” a group leader asked the volunteers. A picture, perhaps a memory of back home, some said.
As the group states, crossing the border through the desert isn’t a popular choice: it’s the last resort. This is a direct consequence of our fundamentally broken immigration system, which gives little to no option to people who want to come to the U.S. for a better life or are seeking to reunite with relatives already here. Instead, Congress keeps pumping billions into border militarization, which actually ”pushes intending migrants onto more perilous paths,” according to the American Immigration Council. In fact, immigrants are five times more likely to die in a border crossing attempt now versus 18 years ago. And because of Congress’ failure to update our immigration laws to reflect human realities, people continue to die. But not if Border Angels can help it. The rest of the Mother Jones series is a must-watch, and is available to watch here.