Saving Migrant Lives in the Arizona Desert

Every year, hundreds of migrants die in the desert from dehydration. Humane Borders is dedicated to saving their lives by providing water along the way of their grueling and dangerous journey.

“It’s not for me to judge whether they are breaking the law; I just want to help human beings in need.”

Video Transcript

Tucson, Arizona: For I was hungry, and you gave me food; I was thirsty, and you gave me drink; I was a stranger, and you welcomed me. — Matthew 25:35

Stephen Saltonstall: Every time I go out into the desert, I am struck by its beauty. It’s an absolutely stunning landscape. But that is ironic, because it’s also a killing field. 

Humane Borders is dedicated to the proposition that people who cross the border unlawfully shouldn’t die. Water is life, so of course it’s important for people in the desert.

We have 50 water stations in the Sonoran Desert, which we check periodically. We want to make sure that the migrants have excellent drinking water. And so we not only test it, we taste it and smell it, make sure that it’s okay. I always analogize it to tasting food for the king.

Yeah, I think that’s right, 15. So 15 gallons might be seven people. 

We have death maps which show the place where people have been found, and we try our best to put water stations in places where we know migrants are going to be.

Diane Hoelter: We need to be doing something here, reaching out to these people that are coming — most of whom, I think, are coming from such horrendous circumstances that cause them to leave.

John Hoelter: In our backyard, we are living in an area where people are dying where they don’t need to. I didn’t want to just sit by and read about things. I wanted to actually do something.

Stephen: We hope that migrants will see the flags and even if they don’t know what they are, that will draw their curiosity in.

So we put these locks on about two years ago because vigilantes were pouring gasoline and turpentine into the barrels. This one had gasoline in it one day. People shoot our water barrels with guns. They stab them with screwdrivers and knives. They empty the water. They smash the spigots. There’s one particular water station where one of these vigilantes vandalized the water and a migrant died about 100 yards from the station.

It’s not for me to judge whether they’re breaking the law. I just want to help human beings in need. Every year, there are about 150 bodies that are found in the Tucson sector — and that’s just a small fraction of the people that have actually died because it only takes a week to 10 days for predators to strip a body clean to a skeleton, and then the bones are scattered. 

These people are human beings. It isn’t right that they should die — and it’s a terrible death, a death by dehydration and exposure.

Diane: Anything that we can do to help them on their journey and not die in the desert — that’s the main goal.

John: We’re not heroes, we’re just driving trucks in the desert and supplying water. It can be done.

Stephen: The biggest thing that the world lacks is compassion. I would like people to understand that these are really us — we’re all migrants. We need to be compassionate, helpful, and kind to these people, and treat them the way we would want to be treated, and the people that came before us, and our families were treated.

Fifty gallons of water — of our water — was used this week on this water run. And so that’s probably 25 people used our water. That’s a fair amount. I feel like it’s… You know, we could have saved some lives.

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