Summer Turns Deadly for US-Bound Migrants Braving Scorching Desert Heat

Record-setting migration to the U.S.-Mexico border and scorching heat waves are contributing to an especially deadly summer for migrants negotiating desolate and unforgiving desert terrain in hopes of reaching the United States.In June alone, the remains of 43 bodies were found in Arizona’s Sonoran Desert north of the U.S. border with Mexico, according to the Tucson-based nonprofit group Water tanks from the NGO Humane Borders are placed in the desert as supply for immigrants crossing the area near Arivaca, Arizona, March 23, 2006.The group has documented remains found in the U.S. as far as 40 kilometers from the border and noticed increased traffic in the remote western desert, where migrants are cut off from almost any form of emergency assistance.The National Weather Service reported that June was the hottest month on record in the Phoenix and Tucson areas of Arizona, with temperatures regularly above 43 C (110 F).June 2021 is now the hottest June on record for Phoenix. Water is left by volunteers of the nonprofit Border Angels in a remote area of the mountains near the end of the fence at the U.S.-Mexico border, in Tecate, California, on Dec. 29, 2018.Humanitarian groups working along the border believe the actual migrant death toll is much higher than what has been officially reported over the years, with some bodies never found.Border Angels, a nonprofit organization in San Diego, California, that supports more than 15 shelters in Tijuana, Mexico, estimates that over the past 27 years, more than 11,000 migrants have perished in their attempt to cross the southern border.”But we will never know for sure,” said Border Angels Executive Director Dulce Garcia.Garcia said the group is seeing more migrants who have been waiting years to present themselves at a U.S. port of entry and ask for humanitarian relief.”These people that are here waiting, they’re very desperate. And even in 120-degree (Fahrenheit) weather (49 C), even when they know they’re risking their lives, the alternative is remaining in a country (Mexico) that also is a risk to them and their lives. So they feel like they have no other choice but attempt to cross into a country that they think is going to be safe for them,” Garcia told VOA.The U.S. Border Patrol has reported more than 7,000 migrant deaths along the U.S.-Mexico border from 1998 through 2020, according to archived data. Water drop programsBorder Angels operates what’s known as a water drop program. For roughly 20 years, volunteers have been depositing as much water as they can along the desert paths most traveled by migrants.In 2020, they placed more than 4,000 liters of water with messages written in Spanish: “Te deseo suerte,” or “I wish you luck.”Garcia said volunteers are careful to follow the law and keep interaction with any migrants they encounter to a minimum. But if someone is in distress, they call 911 for emergency assistance.”We don’t assist anyone in the crossing. We only drop supplies to make sure that people don’t die,” she added.Humane Borders has its own water program, and Jones said there are dangers associated with doing work as simple as giving out water.”It has to do with a number of hate groups and racist terrorist groups that roam the desert and are actively seeking to disrupt humanitarian supplies,” Jones said. That is one of the reasons his organization does not advertise water drop locations, he added.If Humane Borders’ volunteers find human remains during their water drop runs, Jones said, they immediately contact the U.S. Border Patrol.Looking at the latest information on post-mortem interval — the time that has elapsed since an individual’s death — for those found in the month of June, Jones said most died within the previous 30 days.”So, it’s not like these are a bunch of skeletal remains that just happened to be found. These are real, living, breathing people who in May were alive and, by the end of June, were not alive anymore,” he said.
 

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