Moving America Forward

The Unlikely Partnership That’s Saving Lives in the Desert

July 18, 2018
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The Unlikely Partnership That’s Saving Lives in the Desert
Sean Ryon, Alan Thompson
For nearly 20 years, a group of humanitarian volunteers has been joining forces with Border Patrol agents to prevent migrants from dying in the brutal Arizona desert.

Episode 2 of NationSwell’s “Aid at the Border” multimedia series, which explores humanitarian efforts along the US-Mexico border, zeroes in on the special relationship between an interfaith organization and the largest federal law enforcement agency in the country.

In the years following Operation Gatekeeper — a 1994 immigration measure that sought to seal off routes into San Diego — migrants began streaming into Arizona, making the Tucson sector one of the busiest at the southern border. By the turn of the century, the U.S. Border Patrol was reporting record-high levels of apprehensions, including more than 600,000 in 2000 alone. That’s when Rev. Robin Hoover founded the migrant-aid nonprofit Humane Borders, made up of a cross-section of Tucson’s faith communities all working toward a common goal: saving immigrant lives.



“If you were out here in the desert and you asked a guy for a drink of water, do you really think he’d say no?” says Bob Feinman, vice chair of Humane Borders. “That’s all it’s about; it’s that simple for us.”

Similar to the San Diego–based aid organization Water Station, Humane Borders maintains 50 fixed water stations throughout the Sonoran desert, where more than 3,000 migrants have died since 1999. Along with the Pima County Medical Examiner’s Office, the organization also maintains the Arizona OpenGIS Initiative for Deceased Migrants, a data map that pinpoints the deadliest regions in the desert.



But Humane Borders’ work isn’t limited to providing water and geographic data. They also collaborate with Border Patrol agents in the Tucson sector on a number of campaigns to spread word of the dangers of crossing the border without documents. This partnership is essential to Border Patrol’s mission, says Steven Passement, acting special operations supervisor in the Tucson sector.

“We want to save lives; they want to save lives,” says Agent Passement. “Any kind of water that’s out in these environments is going to save a life.”

Watch Episode 2 of “Aid at the Border” above to see how migrant-aid volunteers and Border Patrol agents have united around a common cause.

This video is the second 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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