What they left behind: Items found in the Borderlands

Humanitarian groups track traces of migrants crossing the border.

  • Human rights activist John Fife, who has advocated for the sanctuary movement since the 1980s and was a co-founder of No More Deaths in 2004, addresses volunteers gathered with the Tucson Samaritans for their annual event Flood the Desert, on July 1 in Tucson, Arizona.

    Caitlin O'Hara
  • A toothbrush left by a migrant near Three Points, Arizona.

    Caitlin O'Hara
  • Volunteers with the Tucson Samaritans gather water and medical supplies to take into the desert in southern Arizona.

    Caitlin O'Hara
  • Sun-bleached camouflage pants left by a migrant near Three Points, Arizona. Volunteers say migrant people abandon the faded clothing they walked in for their best outfits carried in a backpack when they attempt to blend into life in the U.S.

    Caitlin O'Hara
  • Humanitarian aid worker Alma Schlor with the Tucson Samaritans recovers a water bottle covered in camouflage material while leaving water in the desert during the Flood the Desert campaign.

    Caitlin O'Hara
  • Items left by migrants under a palo verde tree.

    Caitlin O'Hara
  • Volunteers with the Tucson Samaritans, from left, Denise Holley, Gail Kocourek and Alma Schlor, climb through a cattle fence to check a livestock watering trough, where Kocourek and Schlor found a 21-year-old Guatemalen man just two days before on June 29. Activists estimate that 150 migrants a year die in the Arizona section of the border with Mexico.

    Caitlin O'Hara
  • Carpet shoes left by a migrant near Three Points, Arizona. People wear these carpets over their shoes to avoid leaving tracks in the sand.

    Caitlin O'Hara
  • Volunteer Alma Schlor leaves rosaries for migrant people during the Flood the Desert campaign.

    Caitlin O'Hara
  • A water bottle abandoned by a migrant in a prickly pear cactus near Three Points, Arizona.

    Caitlin O'Hara
  • Volunteer Alma Schlor checks a watering hole for cattle for signs that migrants had been drinking from it during the Flood the Desert campaign in the desert surrounding Tucson, Arizona. Two days before, on June 29, Alma and a fellow volunteer, Gail Koucourek, found a 21-year-old Guatemalan man suffering from heat stroke and drinking from the dirty water.

    Caitlin O'Hara
  • Mayonnaise was among the items found by Tucson Samaritans volunteers during the Flood the Desert campaign.

    Caitlin O'Hara
  • Gail Koucerek uses her walking stick to check for scorpions before inspecting a found backpack for signs of identification during a water drop with the Tucson Samaritans for the Flood the Desert campaign.

    Caitlin O'Hara
  • A backpack left behind by a migrant and found by a volunteer with the Tucson Samaritans near Three Points, Arizona, southwest of Tucson.

    Caitlin O'Hara
  • Humanitarian volunteers with the Tucson Samaritans debrief at the home of Leesa Jacobson, left. The aid workers shared stories of what the different groups encountered and shared new information about an anti-migrant armed militia operating nearby.

    Caitlin O'Hara

 

The Tucson Samaritans have been bringing water into the Arizona desert to save lives for 14 years. This July, they partnered with nearby Southside Presbyterian Church for “Flood the Desert.” The annual event draws college-aged volunteers and retirees who provide medical help and water in an environment that can quickly turn deadly for migrant people. 

In 2016, the Tucson Samaritans recorded 145 deaths in the Sonoran Desert. In the heat of the summer, when temperatures rise far beyond 100, many migrants die of dehydration, hyperthermia or from minor injuries after being left behind by their group. The humanitarian group patrols the desert daily, dropping off water and giving medical services or food to migrants they encounter crossing the desert in southern Arizona. 

The group also picks up the things left behind by travelers. They find empty water bottles, worn-out shoes and bags left behind by someone who carried them far in the heat. Sometimes they discover their own water bottles, left for migrants, damaged by anti-migrant militia groups or border patrol. These scenes aren’t enough to deter them. The volunteers, part of just one of many humanitarian efforts to provide support and basic needs to people attempting to make the trek to the U.S. from Mexico, clean up the refuse and leave more water, hoping to save lives. -Brooke Warren

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