For the past 25 years, a humanitarian crisis has been quietly raging at the United States–Mexico border. Beginning in 1994, the U.S. implemented a policy of “prevention through deterrence” to stymie the flow of undocumented immigrants at traditional ports of entry. The thought was that by pushing migratory routes into harsher desert terrain, where temperatures can exceed 100 degrees, the number of people attempting to cross the border illegally would drop.
But the policy didn’t work as expected, and instead had an unintended consequence: mass death. In 2000, migrant deaths started to spike, jumping 34 percent from the year prior, according to U.S. Border Patrol. All told, an estimated 10,000 undocumented immigrants have died on the treacherous journey since 1994.
When news of these deaths started making headlines in the late 1990s, inventor and scientist John Hunter decided to take action. In 2000, he founded a nonprofit, called Water Station.
“I just get sick and tired of people dying out here and all this yapping going on, and no one’s doing jack,” Hunter says.
Based in Escondido, California, Water Station was one of the earliest organized humanitarian efforts along the border. Hunter and his wife, Laura, lead a team of volunteers in building “water stations,” or 50-gallon drums filled with jugs of water, which are strategically placed in the Imperial Valley Desert where deaths have been recorded. Now 18 years into its mission, Water Station maintains about 125 stations throughout the deserts of eastern California.
Watch the video above to see how the Hunters’ work is helping to save lives in the harsh deserts along the border.

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