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Rio Grande River, Mexico and USA
  Tommy Barrett


Tommy Barrett, community activist

"We're helping migrants in all the legal ways possible because they're pilgrims; they're a lot like our ancestors were. They're coming to feed their families, send money home to their children, and by putting out water bottles, picking up trash, leaving maps, telling people what their rights are far as what the Border Patrol goes. It's just one little thing we can do.

"Within 30 miles of this space, several bodies have been found. With every body that's found there's one that's not found. And with every family that receives the information that their son or daughter has passed away are other families who will never hear. We estimate that a little more than half the bodies are found. In the desert, dead things go away quickly.

"About 3 weeks ago, a grave was found of a 3-month-old child named Danielle — a very shallow grave, it's hard to dig into the kalichi. Covered by a few rocks, it had a twisted thorny mesquite cross, and a piece of garbage maybe from some water bottle, was scratched Danielle, tres meses.

"The desert doesn't kill people — people have lived in the desert for thousands of years. The desert's an okay place. What's killing people are the policies we have that force people who are unprepared to further and further out into the desert."

Roy Bailey


Roy Bailey, Border Patrol Officer

"As we grow larger and more able to halt and control the flow of illegal aliens into the country, we can certainly control it more, direct it where necessary. I don't see an immediate end to the flow of illegal aliens into the country.

"You certainly feel sorry for most of the people — the vast majority of people entering the country illegally are coming here to find jobs, to make money, to make their own lives better, or that of their families. However, it is a nation of laws, and there is legal recourse for people who enter the country illegally."

There are places along the 2,000-mile border between Mexico and the United States where the border seems benign, almost bucolic. Ferries crossing the Rio Grande River between Texas and Mexico have been in operation for 60 years. With the proper credentials and 75 cents, each day 2,000 day-workers make the ten minute journey into the United States.

Border Checkpoint

Border checkpoint

At more traditional checkpoints, traffic is often backed up for hours, as customs officials carefully check for illegal cargo, particularly narcotics. For most, it's merely an inconvenience and like those that take the ferry, they are the lucky ones.

For many seeking refuge and opportunity, the journey across the border is frightening and sometimes dangerous.

For the undocumented, a border crossing into the forbidding wastelands of Arizona can be much more dangerous. This is where the Rio Grande River gives way to the Sonora Desert, one of the most isolated regions in North America. Despite its isolation, in places it is littered with debris left behind by thousands of migrants who attempt to sneak into the United States each day. As elsewhere in the world, most are fleeing from acute poverty associated with environmental pressures.

In the border town of Douglas, Arizona, religious leaders and civil rights activists gather each week to honor those who died trying to make the illegal crossing. It takes nearly an hour to read the names of the dead. Driven by desperation and armed with dreams, each year more than 400 will die from exposure to the extreme climate in the wastelands surrounding Douglas, Arizona.

On the other side of the border is Agua Prieta. The town's economy centers around smuggling. Paid guides, called Coyotes, linger in the shadows, promising safe passage across the desert. On an average day more than 5,000 migrants are hidden away in back alley shanties, called "stash houses," waiting for nightfall. The rooms are sparse and grim. They offer little except the luxury of time and temporary safety. The wait is never easy; everyone knows of the dangers that lie ahead.

As evening comes to Agua Prieta, thousands of migrants are waiting for the right moment to jump the fence and make a dash across the border. Some seek divine guidance, others tremble in fear. In a few hours they will be taken over the border in an attempt to grab a piece of the American dream.

Hundreds of law enforcement agents are waiting for them, waging a nightly battle along a 2,000-mile frontier. The border patrol has the advantage of remote cameras to direct the action, but by nightfall the migrants have both desire and numbers on their side. On average only one in three migrants are apprehended. Thousands of others escape into the desert. Each of them are desperately trying to make their way to friends or family in distant cities.

On any given day, 20,000 illegal immigrants are held in detention centers all along the border. In Douglas, those that are caught are finger-printed, photographed, held a few hours and then deported.

Extreme poverty leaves people with very few choices.

Most have journeyed thousands of miles, the majority from Mexico's drought stricken interior. Others are fleeing from the environmental extremes of Central and South America.

Border patrol loading illegal migrants

Border patrol loading illegal migrants

They are given back their water containers and whatever meager possessions they carry. Tonight most will attempt the crossing again. They have nothing to lose. Each year one and a half million illegal migrants successfully make it into the United States. Environmental extremes as the associated hardship will continue to drive them across the border and toward what they see as a brighter future for themselves and their families.



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