Story by Vicente Rodriguez, Aguilas Del Desierto Inc.
Each year 400 – 500 migrant deaths are reported by the Border Patrol. In 2012, 477 died, and in 2013, 445 died.
Aguilas Del Desierto, Inc. is an all-volunteer, non-profit organization. Its mission is to search for and rescue migrants lost in the desert or mountains while attempting to cross the border. Our members have years of experience, working on both sides of the border, mostly in Arizona and California.
Aguilas Del Desierto is contacted in a number of situations. Sometimes a family member who has not been contacted by their loved one will alert us that the migrant is missing. Other times, a member of a group that was crossing together will contact us when someone was left behind, unable to continue for various reasons (i.e. sickness, injury, or dehydration). We are also called by persons who, in crossing to the north themselves, have come across a body or the remains of a body.
Migrants generally, will not call the Border Patrol, or the sheriff, because of the risk of arrest or deportation. Also, they will not present themselves, physically, to be interviewed for the possible location of the missing. Clearly, there is a need for an organization to fill this void and help locate the missing. Aguilas Del Desierto can and will do this by interviewing the migrant or family member in person, including, going to Mexico to do the interview.
After possible search area is identified, our volunteers set about combing the area for the missing person. In an emergency situation, we can notify the Border Patrol, who will conduct a helicopter air search. We may also do a ground search simultaneously.
When it comes to bodies, or loved ones who have gone missing in trying to cross the border and are presumed dead, we gather any information that could lead to pin-pointing the area where they were last seen. Families, often wives and children, need some sort of closure about their loved ones. This is a very human need.
In our efforts to provide closure for these families, we work with other non-government agencies. In Arizona, the Colibri Center, an anthropological non-government organization (NGO), works in conjunction with the Pima County Forensic office to determine the identify of unidentified remains. They have a file of over 900 unidentified migrant bodies. They also have 1,500 cases of reports from families of loved ones gone missing while attempting to cross the border. We, as volunteers, try our best to work with agencies to provide families with factual information on missing and disappeared persons.
Our latest endeavor is preparing brochures for publication and distribution in Mexico and Central America. These brochures will alert and warn of the inherent dangers migrants face when attempting to cross the border. The crossing may take as long as ten days through the deserts or mountains, under a blazing hot sun where temperatures can reach over 120 degrees Fahrenheit. The lack of available water makes the journey especially dangerous. It is our hope that through both our work along the border and in Mexico and Central America, some lives can be saved with this effort.