Thousands Are Missing or Dead Along the Border. Meet the People Trying to Find Them

Tucson is a dustbowl. Flanked by mountains to the east and west, the city that was built in the middle of the Sonoran desert — known mostly for fire-red sunsets that cast shadows from long-armed saguaro cacti — can be deadly.
When I visited in June, it wasn’t even summer yet, and midday temperatures were already kissing the tops of thermometers in the triple digits; the pool water at my hotel felt like tepid bathwater. For most people who live here, it’s the beginning of a season for barbecues under shaded awnings and pool parties, in a desperate attempt to stay cool.
But for workers at the Pima County Office of the Medical Examiner, it’s the season of the dead.
Pima County is one of the many areas along the U.S. southern border that doesn’t have a border wall. Even in areas where there is a wall, desperate immigrants still try to cross on foot.
The number of immigrants who’ve been apprehended trying to cross the border has decreased over the past two decades, from nearly 1.7 million in 2000 to a fifth of that number this year — thanks in part to foreign policy initiatives enacted by the Obama and Bush administrations, in addition to hints of economic resiliency in Mexico. But the number of people who die crossing the border has remained the same, and in some areas has even gone up.
What that means, essentially, is that the death rate has increased dramatically, leaving us with evidence of something more problematic than just a border security issue.
“We’re in the middle of a humanitarian crisis, absolutely,” says Dr. Robin Reineke, an anthropologist and co-founder and executive director of the Colibrí Human Rights Center in Tucson.
The crisis becomes obvious in the Pima County morgue, where body bags are stacked in the freezer, many with identification tags scrawled with “John” or “Jane Doe.” For remains that can’t be assigned a gender, they are designated “Unidentified.” The number of bodies can get so cumbersome that during this time of year, mobile freezer trailers have been brought in to house the overflow.
The bodies — or more often than not, the skeletal remains — arrive in pieces, with little way of identifying them. But a recent partnership between Colibrí and the medical examiner’s office has enabled a unique combination of cultural anthropology and DNA testing to ID the unknown. Working together, they have successfully identified 150 bodies over the past decade.  
Though that number is tiny compared to the thousands who, over the years, have gone missing and are feared dead in the Arizona desert, for grieving families who agonize over whether or not their loved ones are dead, identifying the bodies allows for some sense of closure.

Final border 2
At the Pima County morgue, unidentified migrant bodies stack up in the summer months.

Carmina Santa Cruz hasn’t seen her son, Marco, for five years.
Since Santa Cruz first came to the States as an illegal immigrant in 1985, her son and daughter have shuttled back and forth between Mexico and the U.S., in order to spend time with their mother.
It’s not uncommon for immigrants from many countries to come to the U.S. for six months on a tourist visa, then return to their home country to reset the clock, before repeating the cycle again. It’s an easy way to skirt immigration rules without being deported, so long as you’re not caught working. But for those who stay longer than six months and are caught, that’s when people are detained and barred from entering the States for years as punishment.
But Marco wasn’t deported — he had no intention of living in the U.S. He owned a shop in Nogales, Mexico, and lived comfortably, according to his mother, who spoke to NationSwell through an interpreter.
But Marco was depressed. A divorce from his wife, who barred him from visiting his children, sent him into a depression, says Santa Cruz. “He told me that he had no desire to live,” she adds. “According to him, he was coming to my house, but I did not know anything about him crossing the desert.”
In August, three weeks after he said he would arrive, Santa Cruz panicked and went searching for him.
“I went to Nogales to look for him like every 15 days or every week. A supposed friend that [crossed the border] with him came back and tried to reach me to explain that my son had died in the desert,” she says.
Final border 3
“I could not do anything, I felt as if I was disabled and powerless to do anything,” says Carmina Santa Cruz, who’s son has been missing for years.

But that was just one of many stories Santa Cruz heard about what had happened to her son. Marco’s friends and acquaintances reached out, sharing different details on where they had last seen him. Santa Cruz followed every lead. She began her search at the Mexican Consulate in Tucson, but quickly realized that they would not be able to help her. She also went to the sheriff’s office, but says that they “treated me like a Mexican, like I wasn’t worth anything.”
That’s not an uncommon feeling for many immigrants who learn about lost family members at the border. And going to Border Patrol, which does search and rescue for bodies reported along the border, comes at a risk — especially if they’re undocumented.
“They can contact Border Patrol, they can contact the police department, they can contact [their] consulate, but they also need to know that we’re here to do a job, which is to enforce the immigration laws,” says Operation Officer Hugo Vega, who heads the U.S. Border Patrol’s Missing Migrant Program in southern Texas. “They gotta be aware of any consequences that could arise from coming to the Border Patrol station, and if they’re here illegally, there’s gonna be a process to follow.”
It’s that process that has most families spooked into staying silent. As a result, mothers in Santa Cruz’s position end up losing hope in finding their children.
“Every day I locked myself up in a room to cry because I did not know how to find him; all the doors were closed for me,” she says. “I could not do anything, I felt as if I was disabled and powerless to do anything. In this time of anguish, the only thing that you want is for someone to open a door for you.”
To say the trek over the U.S.-Mexico border is difficult is a radical understatement. I grew up in Arizona, where oven mitts and beach towels were common driving accessories inside hot cars, which could top 130 degrees when parked outside for even short periods of time. We even had a pool cooler, growing up.
So I wanted to see what it was like crossing the border myself, or at least experience what it was like to walk through the desert — something I had never done outside of recreational camping.
In my visit to Tucson, I parked my car on the shoulder of a highway southwest of the city and walked south into the San Xavier Indian reservation toward the Mexican border. According to my GPS, the border was a day’s walk away on the road. Close to 500 bodies have been discovered in this area since 2002, according to the Arizona Open GIS, which tracks migrant deaths along the border through the nonprofit organization, Humane Borders.

Most of the bodies and skeletal remains found there are unrecognizable. Once a person dies, decomposition begins. Leave a body in the desert for even a day and, with the help of heat and hungry desert animals, faces become unrecognizable. Identifying marks, such as tattoos and birthmarks, quickly fade away.
“It’s not uncommon for someone to essentially become skeletal remains within a small period of time, say a few weeks, where it may take a lot longer for that to occur in a cooler environment,” says Dr. Gregory Hess, Pima County’s chief medical examiner.
But immigrants coming to the U.S. by foot aren’t using an iPhoneX to lead their way, like I was. And they generally avoid highways, where Border Patrol might be driving, making the day’s walk last up to a week, I’m told by those who have survived the trek.
I didn’t last more than two hours in the sun before having to turn back. In that short time, the bottoms of my feet were burnt through my shoes, and I was drenched in sweat. I could have easily become dehydrated within a few more hours — which is how most people crossing the border die, according to Pima County officials.
For corpses that are recovered, they are often found in pieces, with skulls and other large bones separated from the bodies. In 2010, then-Arizona Governor Jan Brewer used headless bodies found in the desert as “proof” of illegal immigrants killing people after crossing the border. (Contrary to Brewer’s claims, when a body decomposes, there is very little to hold a skull to the spine, so a head easily detaches and rolls away.) Out of the thousands of bodies that have gone through the Pima medical examiner’s office, less than 50 have been labeled as victims of foul play — and even those are death by firearm, Hess says.
“Almost all of [the deaths] have been from exposure,” he adds.
Some immigrants have gone to great lengths to rescue bodies at risk of getting lost. Stretchers made out of cholla cactus skeletons and bound with shoelaces and underwear bands have been found throughout the Arizona desert. In one instance, Reineke tells me, the body of an elderly woman was carried on a stretcher to the nearest road where Border Patrol was flagged down.
But not all immigrants can afford to waste that kind of energy, or risk being deported by carrying bodies along with them across the desert.
César Ortigoza is the founder of Armadillos Búsqueda y Rescate (Armadillos Search and Rescue) in San Diego, a group of San Diego–based volunteers who perform search and rescue operations for immigrants lost in the desert. Ortigoza is one of a handful of volunteers who are contacted by family members, mostly through Facebook, seeking help in finding their missing loved ones.
“Every single day we get between two and five [calls],” he says. “Most of the time when they call us, they say, ‘I know he went through Arizona.’ A lot of time we say, ‘What part of Arizona?’ And they say, ‘That’s all we know.’”
Ortigoza is short and cherubic, and when he laughs his face wrinkles like the skin of a ripe peach. We are drinking chilled coconut and agave water in his apartment in Vista, California, laughing about the Star Wars action figures he has lined up on his desk, when he gets a call. It’s a woman inquiring about her husband: He had been deported and was trying to get back to his family in the U.S. by crossing the border, but had gone missing instead.
“He said he was about an hour-and-a-half away, but he said to me, ‘I feel weak,’” the woman told Ortigoza over the phone, crying. She told Ortigoza that if her husband felt he was in danger, he would call Border Patrol for help. But now his phone was dead, and there was no way of knowing if he was dead or alive.
Finding bodies isn’t necessarily the largest hurdle for Hess and Reineke. The real challenge is trying to figure out whom the bones belong to — and in many cases, they have only a few possessions found around a body to use as clues.
This is where Colibrí finds its niche. With a limited budget, the group of six staff members, including Reineke, use their training as cultural anthropologists to identify the people whose remains are recovered along the border.
It’s a unique solution to an incredibly difficult problem, where often the only possessions people have on them when they die is some money, maybe a few photos and, more often than not, a couple of phone numbers and a laminated prayer card of St. Christopher, the Catholic saint of travel.
Jewelry or certain clothing items, such as an insignia on a hat, might give clues to regions where people are from. A tattoo or missing teeth might also help identify remains.
Final border 4
Dr. Gregory Hess and NationSwell reporter Joseph Darius Jaafari examine remains found in the desert.

Since 2012, Reineke and her team have been able to compile missing persons reports — hundreds per year — that include such details from family members. It’s her team’s job to match them with the bodies that are found.
“For example, we might get a missing person’s report, which says when the person was the last seen alive,” Reineke says. “We then open the files of the unidentified at the beginning of July of that year, and one by one look for any clues. We know that he was missing this tooth, so I flip past any females and anybody who does have a tooth there. Then we get to the point of, ‘Well, it’s a pretty strong comparison but it’s really not strong enough to make a positive ID.’”
That process alone is tedious and time-consuming, and it has resulted in about 10 to 12 identifications per year with the help of the medical examiner’s office. And DNA is the surest way to truly identify someone. So two years ago, Colibrí received a $200,000 grant to send DNA samples of living family members to the medical examiner’s office to help identify more bodies.
Now when families call Colibrí for help in identifying remains, mouth swabs are taken and their DNA is logged with the report. That DNA is then matched against bodies brought to the Pima County’s medical examiner office, where Colibrí is also housed.
“Being here means that we can communicate live with each other. We have access to each other’s databases,” says Reineke. “When the medical examiner’s office receives calls from people searching for missing loved ones, we’ll take the missing person’s report and make sure that data gets compared against unidentified human remains.”
The result has been 56 people identified each year using both DNA testing and the anthropological methods cited above. The federal genetics program, in comparison, has identified only a quarter of that number each year.
Despite an onslaught of negative press directed at the Border Patrol — especially after a Mother Jones article detailed the racism and apathy of self-proclaimed “border militia” members fraternizing with Border Patrol agents, and a viral video showed Border Patrol agents kicking over life-saving water stations in the desert — there is an effort within the sprawling agency to help migrants stay alive.
Through microphotography, a process that can be used to reconstruct skin based on small traces of muscle or skin cells left on bones, Vega has been able to identify up to 60 people by matching reconstructed fingerprints with those logged in the U.S. fingerprint data system after previous deportations.
“We’re working with stage four decomposition levels. This is basically skeletal remains with just a little, tiny bit of skin on the hands, and you’re talking highly dehydrated skin, highly decomposed skin, and we’re capturing the rich details that are found under pretty much all the layers of the skin,” Vega says. “It depends on the circumstances, but I can tell you that we have identified bodies that are pretty close to being skeletons.”
Even though the Missing Migrant Program is intertwined with an agency that breeds resentment and fear among the Latino communities in the U.S. Southwest, Vega says they’re doing their best to identify dead bodies in the service of bringing peace and closures to families.
“To save lives, prevent death, obviously that’s our most important mission,” he says. “But if death happens, [we] dignify the process for the families.”
For Santa Cruz, she is still waiting to hear about her son. Her DNA has been logged and Reineke continues to look for Marco, despite the odds of him being found alive.
“When you know that your son may have died in the desert, it changes your life and the lives of your whole family,” says Santa Cruz. “It is an unbearable pain that drives you crazy and makes you lose your mind. You do not want to continue on living without the son you have lost.”

This article is the fourth and final installment of NationSwell’s multimedia series “Aid at the Border,” which explores the impact of humanitarian efforts along the US-Mexico border.

Searching for Lives Lost in the Desert

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.

How a Fake Ad Campaign Led to the Real-Life Launch of a Massive Infrastructure Project

Donald Trump’s call for a “big, beautiful wall” along our southern border hasn’t resonated in the West Texas city of El Paso. Already connected to Mexico by the world’s largest border metroplex, local officials want to further link El Paso to its sister city, Ciudad Juarez. Last January, they started laying tracks for a streetcar line that officials hope eventually will shuttle passengers between the two countries, as it had once done for most of the 20th century.
Notably, and rather unusually, the El Paso streetcar initiative gained steam as a public and performance art project. In 2011, black-and-white portraits of a smiling train conductor started popping up around town, sometimes accompanied by the phrase Sube al futuro: Go to the future. A few months later, a wheat-pasted mosaic on an abandoned brick building featured hundreds of locals’ faces; together, the composite formed an ad for a retro streetcar, which resembled the Art Deco-ish trolley that ran 63 miles between El Paso and Juarez until 1974. At that point, conceptual artist Peter Svarzbein, an El Paso native, introduced himself as the creative mind behind the El Paso Transnational Trolley Project.
In the five years since, an even odder confluence of art and life took place. The fictional ad campaign gave a fresh face to the public transit movement, which helped turn it into a multimillion-dollar construction reality (the first 4.8-mile section is set to open in 2018). Meanwhile, Svarzbein ran for office and now sits on the nine-member city council, which provides direction to the agency responsible for the El Paso’s transit projects.
“Border crossing is what defines us,” Svarzbein says of his city. “It’s in the best interest, for both El Paso and Juarez, to allow these people to cross over. They’re not doing it to take our jobs and our Medicaid, or whatever rhetoric is espoused. We understand our people crossing over symbolize the dreams of what this country has always been about.”
The son of an Argentine-born surgeon and a French-born nurse who moved to El Paso together in 1978, Svarzbein grew up accustomed to a border town’s cross-cultural influence. In high school, he and his friends regularly trekked next door to dine out at restaurants or take advantage of Mexico’s younger drinking age at nightclubs.
But shortly after Svarzbein moved away to attend Franklin & Marshall College, a liberal arts school in Pennsylvania, the tie between the sister cities was snipped. In 2006, the Mexican president Felipe Calderon launched an all-out assault against the country’s powerful drug cartels, an opening salvo that led to turf wars in Juarez and chaos along the border. To respond to the violence, Svarzbein began looking for a way to remind residents of both countries of the connections they shared, despite the brutality.
Researching symbols of unity, he came across pictures of El Paso’s old trolley line. For his master’s thesis at the School of Visual Arts in New York City, he decided to create a series of fake ads for the tram’s revival. Both conceptual and commercial, a historical documentary and a performance piece, the art project blurred genres — not unlike how living on the border can entwine residents’ identities.
In 2012, Svarzbein’s fictional vision for a revitalized streetcar system started to become reality when he discovered the city planned on selling the old, rusting trolleys to San Francisco. “I said, ‘Oh, hell no,’” Svarzbein recalls. He began lobbying city officials to apportion part of a quality-of-life bond to reviving the streetcar, and he gathered over 1,800 signatures. The outpouring of support eventually won a $97 million grant from the Texas Department of Transportation.
When the first phase opens, the trolley will make 27 stops along a route from the University of Texas El Paso to the city’s downtown. It’s expected to pick up about 1,480 riders daily, topping 540,000 trips a year. The line will use six vintage Presidents’ Conference Committee cars, a tram design that became popular in 1936, around the time FDR was reelected for a third term; each is being refurbished with Wi-Fi and air-conditioning. “For some people, it taps into nostalgia. They remember when they were kids, riding the streetcar with their abuela, when it was easier to go into Mexico,” Svarzbein says.
The public-works project is a nod to the city’s history, but Svarzbein hopes that it will also create new opportunities on both sides of the border. “We have the ability in this region to not just design an idea, but to build it,” he says. “We need to make sure that people and businesses are able to cross the border in an efficient and safe way.”
That, after all, is the promise of an international streetcar, he adds, especially in a time where inflamed political rhetoric paints the US-Mexico border as an area in need of armed patrols, rather than more ports of entry. “What much of the country doesn’t understand — and what we understand all too well being in these twin cities — is that border security is economic security,” Svarzbein argues. “Providing jobs are how you make this area safe. Jobs are how the cartels don’t have as much power. Jobs are how you grow this region.”

An earlier version of this story suggested Svarsbein was the sole instigator of the project, when he was actually one of several people advocating for it, and that the cartel-related violence in Juarez had reached across the border. We regret the errors.

Homepage photo courtesy of Peter Svarzbein/

As Extreme Poverty Increases Nationwide, This Texas County Finds the Secret to Drastically Reduce It

It’s rarely quiet in the Indian Hills colonia in Hidalgo County, Texas. Cars speed through on shoddily paved roads, blasting reggaeton, a type of music rooted in Latin and Caribbean culture; children kick rubber balls in pickup soccer games, while their parents — home from mowing lawns in McAllen, constructing houses in Pharr or picking tomatoes and onions in Edinburg — hang on the fences, gossiping. From rundown vans, men peddle popsicles, bread, corn, chiles, Flamin’ Hot Cheetos — anything, really, says Lourdes Salinas, a community organizer who has lived in the colonias (a term used for the spontaneous settlements on the U.S.-Mexico border that often lack basic infrastructure) for 22 years. “If you live in a colonia, the families are very low-income. Their houses need repairs…and most of the colonias, they need streets and lights. Around mine, they get inundated with water” that floods homes when it rains, she explains.
In southern Texas, where nearly 2,300 colonias dot the arid landscape surrounding the Rio Grande River before it spills into the Gulf of Mexico, nearly 400,000 residents — largely Hispanic — call these barrios home. About two-thirds are American-born citizens that subside on low-wage work. (Nationally, 34.8 percent of residents live in poverty.) Others are undocumented immigrants, who, having successfully crossed one border, don’t risk their chances driving north past dozens of interior checkpoints. Lacking money or papers, colonia residents build their own homes themselves (often without electricity or plumbing), raising a roof where their family first arrived in this country.

A typical Texas colonia.

Outside of city limits, these areas of concentrated poverty resemble neighborhoods in a developing country. Paul Jargowsky, a public policy professor at Rutgers, refers to them as the “architecture of segregation,” a trend he’s seen explode nationally in American suburbs and among racial minorities. “After the dramatic decline in concentrated poverty between 1990 and 2000, there was a sense that cities were ‘back,’ and that the era of urban decay — marked by riots, violent crime, and abandonment — was drawing to a close. Unfortunately, despite the relative lack of public notice or awareness, poverty has re-concentrated, he says. Families living in these slums must cope not only with their own financial hardship, but with all the social problems destitution brings: poor health, crime and limited educational and employment opportunities.
In 2000, McAllen, Texas, the largest city in Hidalgo County, had the highest concentration of Hispanic poverty in the country, with 61.4 percent of Latinos living in squalor. But through ambitious affordable housing programs, led by municipal government and a local nonprofit, the community has been able to break up these dense, distressed areas by reducing the number of Hispanics living in them by 10 percent, while the rest of the country saw a sharp increase. (Detroit’s rates, for example, jumped from 8.8 percent of Hispanics living in ghettoes to 51.1 percent over the same period; Milwaukee, too, skyrocketed from 5.3 percent to 43.2 percent.)
“To me, we have one of the most successful low-income housing programs in the country,” Mayor Jim Darling tells NationSwell. “It is a testament to the great American Dream of home ownership and how much that means to them.”
Surrounded by veterans, Mayor Jim Darling addresses the audience during his 2016 State of the City Address in McAllen, Texas.

Hidalgo County’s colonias began to pop up in the 1950s, when farmers sold barren land to developers. Many quickly subdivided the unincorporated land into small lots and offered them to recent immigrants. (Often, they were sold through a “contract for deed” where developers offered comparatively low monthly rates, but would only turn over the deed when it had been paid in full. If a family fell behind, they lost the property and had no paperwork to show for it.) Frequently, homes were built piecemeal, adding rooms whenever a resident had some extra cash on hand.
For a time, McAllen focused on renovating the existing homes. Starting in 1976, a group of businessmen got together to eliminate outhouses in the area and hook up homes to sewers. By the mid-1980s, however, one mayor got fed up. “We don’t have to be repairing houses that are going to be falling down in two years,” Darling, the former city attorney who once provided legal advice for the housing program, recalls his predecessor saying.
The city’s affordable housing program looks different than the ones you’d find in urban areas where demand for prime lots is so high that policymakers can attach requirements (such as designating units for low-income residents) to large developments. In McAllen, low demand creates the opposite market dynamic: land is so cheap that the city can buy up undeveloped lots, hold the mortgages and offer them to residents most in need. So far, the plan has built more than 2,700 homes in the area, primarily available to those who had lived or worked in McAllen for two years; leveraging public capital with private banks has generated nearly $40 million in home loans. (A voucher program provides a rent subsidy for 150 apartment units is also available to residents.)
Program recipients are unique: The ideal customer is the person that “nobody else will lend to,” Darling says. Unlike a bank representative who’s following a given formula to determine whether or not an applicant should receive a loan, the city offers extra leeway to poor immigrant families, knowing their income isn’t consistent. It adds food stamps and other welfare to income calculations, for instance, and it knows that families may disappear for two or three months, picking crops up north, before returning to catch up on their loan responsibilities.
This same population is the main beneficiary of Proyecto Azteca, a nonprofit based in San Juan (a couple miles east of McAllen) that builds new, wood-framed homes for residents of the colonias. Residents are given 40-year mortgages at zero interest, as long as they contribute 150 towards the building of their own home (to learn valuable construction skills) or in community service. Since 1991, only a handful of Proyecto homes have been foreclosed on. The high success rate explains why 4,000 families are on its waiting list.
Amber Arriaga, director of public relations for Proyecto Azteca, stands inside one of the homes currently under construction.

Both the City of McAllen and Proyecto Azteca have thought carefully about where to place this new construction. There’s an argument that slums must be broken up by redistributing the population, moving poor families into middle-class neighborhoods to add diversity. But there’s also something to be said for building a model three-bedroom home in the middle of the colonias, uplifting the community. So new housing is constructed in both locations.
While the situation is improving, McAllen has experienced its share of recent crises: drought (which set back Hidalgo County farmers and migrant laborers), rain (that flooded the colonias and displaced residents) and the child migrant crisis of 2014, where tens of thousands of youngsters fleeing violence in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, waded across the Rio Grande, seeking asylum. Add those occurrences to the region’s persistent poverty and Mayor Darling has a full plate of work. “They’re all opportunities,” is how he puts it, a chance to show off his hometown and find ways to improve it. “I don’t worry about legacies or anything else. What I would like to see is that, instead of working apart and against each other, we worked a lot more with each other for the betterment of our communities. If anything, I’ve tried to do that. That’s been a challenge,” he says, but challenges haven’t stopped him before.

A New Website Shares Inspiring Stories from Those Often Not Heard

A Republican mayor in small-town Georgia befriends his Mexican neighbors and reconsiders his views on the state’s immigration laws. An undocumented Fijian immigrant grows close to the elderly woman she cares for and finds some peace amid her constant fears that she’ll be deported.
While we all know that countless touching stories from immigrants exist — whether focused on their new country, the places they left, or their journeys between the two locals — they’re often never told. But now, they can be, thanks to the new website, Immigrant Nation.
The first-of-its-kind interactive storytelling platform calls on visitors to submit transmedia content (a type of storytelling that uses multiple formats, including digital ones) describing their own, their parents’, or their grandparents’ journeys to the United States.
More than 150 of the site’s users have already done so — mainly in the form of slideshows that, to viewers, are like taking a glimpse inside captioned family photo albums. This user-generated content sits alongside short documentary films, and soon, it’ll also be shared at live events in diverse communities, where attendees will be encouraged to share their own immigrant tales.
The Immigrant Nation project — and the website itself — is designed to get visitors thinking about interconnectedness. As part of its search function, the site applies keyword tags to each person’s story and also maps them onto charts of country-specific data pulled from official U.S. government immigrant arrival records.This makes it easy to explore the answers to all kinds of questions on the site: When did the largest wave of immigrants from various countries enter the U.S., and what was it like to pass through Ellis Island during that time? Who left my country 20 years before I did? Who else has a migration story similar to mine?
So when Immigrant Nation asks, “where does your family’s story begin?” we encourage you to answer.
MORE: Meet the People Hoping to Change the Face of Immigration in America

A Landmark Project Brings Water Back to the Colorado River

Visit the Colorado riverbed in northwest Mexico this spring, and you’ll see something that hasn’t been witnessed in the area for decades: Flowing water.
The Los Angeles Times reports that authorities recently opened the gates of the Morelos Dam that sits between the international boundary of Yuma, Ariz., and Los Algodones, Mexico, with the goal of pouring 105,000 acre-feet of water into the barren Mexican side of the delta for eight weeks.
Besides the welcome sight of water, there are even signs of wildlife such as hawks, egrets, ospreys and beavers, the newspaper reports.
MORE: Robert Redford and Will Ferrell Team Up to Save Colorado River
This thirst-quenching move has been described by the Associated Press as a “landmark agreement” between the United States and Mexico, who are putting aside their bickering over water rights in an effort to restore the wetlands and wildlife that once flourished south of the border.
Conservationists are hailing this project as a victory. “Never before have we deliberately sent water below the Morelos Dam … to benefit the environment,” Jennifer Pitt of the Environmental Defense Fund, who was involved with the flooding project, wrote on her blog, according to the AP. “By abandoning the old framework of ‘who gets what’ and establishing cooperative management of our shared resource, the U.S. and Mexico are achieving benefits for communities and nature alike.”
At a time when the water-pinched West is experiencing a devastating drought, this restoration project can’t come soon enough.