Since 2004, No More Deaths has maintained a humanitarian presence in the 262-square mile corridor where, in recent years, over half of known migrant deaths on the U.S.-Mexico border have occurred. This militarized region, deemed the “Tucson Sector” and treated as a war zone by the Department of Homeland Security, disproportionately plays host to the mass migration of people without papers from the Americas.
U.S. border enforcement activities serve primarily to control and regulate undocumented migration through violence, intimidation and harassment. The continual build up of enforcement resources in urban centers along the U.S.-Mexico border since the mid-1990s has pushed the flow of undocumented migration into the most isolated and deadly areas of the borderlands. Consequently, many families have permanently settled in the U.S. rather than endure the risk and cost of repeated crossings, driving more women, children, and elderly people to walk through the desert to join or return to their families. In effect, militarized border enforcement has not deterred unauthorized entry into the U.S.; instead, it has simply made migrating to the U.S. without papers more costly, dangerous and deadly.
Direct Aid in the Desert
No More Deaths employs a variety of non-violent
|No More Deaths' Byrd Camp near Arivaca.|
direct aid tactics to respond to the increasingly perilous situation in the borderlands. Volunteers explore and map migration trails in an ever-expanding section of the Sonoran desert, leaving water, food, blankets, and other critical supplies at numerous high traffic locations. Volunteers conduct hiking patrols in remote regions, providing humanitarian aid to those they encounter, and initiating emergency evacuations of those found in critical medical condition. Aid workers document Border Patrol abuses witnessed in the field, acting as a third-party presence in otherwise isolated and unobserved regions of the desert. When possible, No More Deaths partners with other aid organizations to undertake search and rescue efforts for reported missing persons.
In addition to maintaining a presence on migration trails, No More Deaths bases its work at a desert camp equipped with a first aid station outside Arivaca, Arizona. The No More Deaths camp is located near the confluence of area mountain ranges and trail systems, serving as a logical point of contact with people in need of medical care in the region. When there is sufficient volunteer capacity, NMD also establishes satellite camps in other strategic areas within the corridor, and the organization continues to seek new avenues for direct intervention in the borderlands.
Border Militarization and its Consequences
|A view of the unforgiving terrain near the Arizona-Sonora border south of Arivaca.|
The harms of militarized border enforcement which No More Deaths seeks to address are many and far-reaching. The journey into the U.S. through the unforgiving terrain and climate of the militarized zone can range from four days to two weeks. The mountain ranges, foothills, and canyons of the Sonoran desert form a rugged maze-like landscape and the danger of becoming lost is high. During the winter, people must endure freezing temperatures and in the hottest months of the year, heat illness is common and dehydration is a certainty. At all times, a sprained ankle or a gastrointestinal illness from drinking contaminated water can quickly become life-threatening if it prevents a person from being able to keep up with their group.
The business of migration increases the vulnerability of migrants while producing huge profits for the cartels that largely control the movement of people across the border. Although some make the journey alone, people more commonly cross the desert in groups dependent upon the geographical knowledge of paid guides employed by cartels. Those crossing are often treated as human cargo and subject to various forms of abuse, robbery, and extortion. Factors such as age, traveling with children, and the high incidence of gender and sexual violence on the trail compounds the risks posed by cartel affiliates such as guides and bandits.
Working in some of the most isolated areas of the desert out of view of the public, Border Patrol agents often apply brutal force against an unarmed and vulnerable population with nearly absolute impunity and no meaningful oversight. Border Patrol regularly employs fear-based tactics for apprehension, including flying low over groups with helicopters or chasing people with dogs at night, resulting in the dispersal of groups and increasing the danger for those separated from their companions and guides. Official search and rescue outfits, including Border Patrol, rarely commence searches for a reported missing person if they are without citizenship status, abandoning lost persons to the dangerous and often deadly conditions of the desert.
The Goals of Borderlands Solidarity
The border zone is a critical site of struggle and intervention – a place where the application of state violence, the persecution of people without papers, and profiteering from human suffering are acute and rampant. No More Deaths desert aid represents a small yet consequential intervention in this landscape of both militarized enforcement and steadfast resistance to extreme repression. While the impacts of desert aid range from the most minor acts of care to timely and critical interventions, the overall focus remains challenging the climate of human disposability in the borderlands and working to strengthen capacities for survival, while affirming the pursuit of stability, peace, and protection for all people regardless of citizenship status.