Moving America Forward

Searching for Lives Lost in the Desert

August 3, 2018
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Searching for Lives Lost in the Desert
Sean Ryon, Joseph Darius Jaafari
The Armadillos are volunteers with a daunting mission: to find migrants who have gone missing along the border before the unforgiving terrain claims any more lives.

In the third installment of NationSwell’s “Aid at the Border” multimedia series, which explores humanitarian efforts along the US-Mexico border, we return to California’s Imperial Valley desert to examine the future of Water Station, the nonprofit founded by John Hunter in 2000. For nearly two decades, Hunter has led a team of volunteers as they strategically set out life-saving water for migrants traversing the desert terrain around the border. Now, with Hunter and his wife, Laura, stepping down from the board of directors, Water Station has hired a new president, who has vowed to continue the couple’s goal of providing water in the desert to those who need it most.

With Water Station’s future secured, Hunter is now turning his attention to Armadillos Búsqueda y Rescate, a group of volunteers who perform search and rescue operations for immigrants lost in the desert.

“We get reports from families through Facebook,” says Armadillos founder César Ortigoza. “Once we get the phone number from these people, we will call them and they will let us know where their family members were coming through.” Ortigoza and his team then organize their search efforts around the area where these missing migrants are thought to have disappeared.  


The Armadillos’ mission is a personal one for Ortigoza. At the age of 15, he crossed the border himself as an undocumented immigrant in pursuit of a better life. Even though the journey was not nearly as perilous then as it is today, Ortigoza says his experience motivates him to continue the group’s exhaustive search efforts.

“I wish I never had the misfortune to go through what they have to go through,” says Ortigoza. “So I put myself in their shoes, and that’s what keeps me going.”

Watch Episode 3 of “Aid at the Border” above to see how Hunter and Ortigoza are focusing their efforts on locating the people who have seemingly disappeared without a trace.

This video is the third in a four-part multimedia series, “Aid at the Border,” that explores the impact of humanitarian efforts along the US-Mexico border.
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