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TED ROBBINS: Grave markers in the Pima County Public Cemetery– dusty reminders of a record year of death in the desert. 164 people perished crossing from Mexico into the United States during the federal fiscal year, which ended October 1, including this woman, known only as Jane Doe.
(Speaking Spanish) Norma Price is a retired physician, a member of the recently formed Samaritan Patrol. Once a week with a partner, she searches in places where border crossers are known to hide. She and her partners travel with water, food, and medical supplies. Sometimes they are too late.
NORMA PRICE, M.D.: You can see evidence of the people there. You can see where they have been. You can see where they have camped, and then you read in the paper that four people died, you know, either the day before you were there or the day you were there, and you weren’t in the right place or they didn’t come in the area where you were patrolling. So I think that in my mind, I’m thinking the whole time, you know, I hope we find someone.
TED ROBBINS: There is indeed plenty of evidence border crossers have been here. They were likely picked up by smugglers who took them in vehicles to cities like Tucson and Phoenix. The U.S. Border Patrol alone rescued nearly 500 people this year, including this group, which came more than 1,500 miles from the state of Guerrero in Southern Mexico. They said they were headed for work in Phoenix when they were found by members of the Border Patrol search, trauma, and rescue team, known as Bor-Star. They’d been walking in the desert for three days and three nights.
SPOKESMAN: We’re watching the gentleman in green there pretty closely right now. He’s stated that he’d been without water for a few days. ( Speaking Spanish ) Phoenix? Phoenix? ( Speaking Spanish )
TED ROBBINS: Agent Brad Rubinoff says finding so many people– or worse, bodies– takes an emotional toll on him.
BRAD RUBINOFF, U.S. Border Patrol: In the desert, there is no mercy, and so it’s difficult to deal with sometimes, especially when we’ve seen it so often. You sometimes tend to lay awake at night thinking about it.
TED ROBBINS: Last year, another group closely linked with Samaritan Patrol began leaving aid in the desert. Humane Borders started with three water stations. It now has more than 30 water stations, including this one being set up on private land.
SPOKESMAN: We’ll see you back in Tucson.
TED ROBBINS: The Reverend John Fife is a Presbyterian minister and a longtime immigration rights activist. He says the deaths continue increasing because since 1994, U.S. immigration policy has closed off the easy places to cross in cities and forced people into the desert.
REV. JOHN FIFE, Samaritan Patrol: There is evidence that the border patrol, when they devised this strategy, thought that by changing the migration pattern into these hazardous areas and knowing that deaths would occur, thought that that would be a deterrent to… to migration back and forth. But far from that, what they have done is create a record number of deaths each succeeding year that this strategy has been in place.
TED ROBBINS: David Aguilar is chief of the Tucson sector of the Border Patrol.
DAVID AGUILAR, U.S. Border Patrol: The policy of the United States border patrol and the U.S. Government is to prevent illegal entries through deterrence. In the past, it was through populated areas: San Diego, Douglas, Nogales, and areas such as this.
TED ROBBINS: But Aguilar doesn’t blame the policy for the increased deaths. He blames human smugglers known as coyotes.
DAVID AGUILAR: The illegal alien is going to make a decision to come into this country. He or she will not make a decision to come in through some of the most dangerous area known to man. It is the smuggler, when they take the responsibility of guiding these people into the country, that lead people through these very dangerous areas.
TED ROBBINS: These men say they and their group were misled by the smuggler they hired to bring them into the U.S. “They did tell us what we already knew,” he says, “that it wouldn’t be easy. But what happened is they tricked us. They told us it was only going to be eight hours.” After they are healthy, the Border Patrol will transport these men back to Mexico. Samaritan Patrol members say they will also provide aid, but they will not transport crossers to a safer place. That, says David Aguilar, would be illegal.
DAVID AGUILAR: Anything in furtherance of the illegal entry as it relates to people into the interior of the country is clear.
TED ROBBINS: That’s illegal?
DAVID AGUILAR: It is illegal, yes.
TED ROBBINS: Samaritan members claim no responsibility to turn illegal crossers into the border patrol, but Glenn Spencer intends to report every illegal immigrant he can. He heads another new organization, that one opposed to all immigration from Mexico. He calls his organization the American Border Patrol. Spencer is organizing citizens in southern Arizona.
GLENN SPENCER: Through what we call our bird network, “BIRD” standing for “border intrusion reporting data,” and the people who do that are members of American Border Patrol. We call them our hawk eyes. We then will have people working on a computer. The information that will be coming in, we will be using global positioning satellite systems to get the locations by longitude and latitude.
TED ROBBINS: This is a videotape of border crossers taken by a local rancher.
GLENN SPENCER: Look at that line. It’s like an army.
TED ROBBINS: Glenn Spencer opposes the efforts of the Samaritan Patrol and humane borders.
GLENN SPENCER: I think they are misguided, because they cannot put out enough water, and it creates a false sense of hope. These people think they are going to be rescued. The word goes out. You know how that happens. Rumors go, “oh, they have people up there who will save you.” Can you hear the coyotes telling their people, “give me $1,000; I’ll send you across the border. If something happens, they have Humane Borders up there that will save you.”
TED ROBBINS: Samaritan Patrol Member Jessica Alandia says if she does save even one life, it’s worth it.
JESSICA ALANDIA: I am trying to make a difference, a very small drop for in a big ocean of a problem. If we can encourage others to help us, we can encourage the people crossing the border to know that we have… there are humanitarian people here. There are compassionate people. There are loving people, that we look at all people the same irregardless of what side of the border you live on, we are all humans first.
TED ROBBINS: With the arrival of fall, the desert is beginning to cool, and the deaths will decrease, giving Pima County time to clear space in the public cemetery for future graves.