I’ve spent a lot of time along the US/Mexico border, photographing in towns dotting the 2000 mile boundary from Eagle Pass, Texas to Imperial Beach, CA and places in between. Places where the desert meets the mountains, where sand and scrub brush can bake a body in hours during the summer or freeze it in hours during the winter.
In other words, the trek made each year by thousands of migrants north to the US can be insanely perilous. Just reaching the border from places in Central and South America is dangerous enough, but the final journey to Estados Unidos in the last fifteen years has been a lesson in grave risk. The idea behind the 1994 government crackdown known as Operation Gatekeeper was to shut down the border’s most porous areas. In that regard, places like Imperial Beach and San Ysidro, long hotspots for crossing illegally, were effectively shut down. But of course the problem was not solved in any way. Migrants, determined to find a better life as they have for generations, ventured into the vast, rugged terrain of eastern San Diego County where it took days to cross the mountains and desert. Deaths skyrocketed as migrants were ill prepared for the summer temperatures and frigid winter storms. But still they came.
Several years ago I photographed a story for People magazine that chronicled a group of volunteers who placed water in the remote desert between Eastern San Diego and Yuma, Arizona. Large water containers were strategically placed along known migration routes in an effort to save lives. Tall flags flapped overhead to alert migrants to the water. Regardless of one’s position on the immigration debate, it’s simply humane to provide water in an area known for migrant deaths from dehydration.
Now a group of University of California, San Diego professors have developed a cell phone application that provides GPS coordinates for the migrants to locate water on their journey. According to a LA Times opinion piece, the professors, along with a colleague from the University of Michigan, developed the mobile application and nongovernmental, Mexican organizations plan to install it on phones that will be given to migrants embarking on their trek north.
I agree with the Times position. I’ve been in the desert heat. Once migrants are on the path inside the country, it’s humane to leave water for them. But it’s a different story to provide a false sense of security before they leave. What if the migrants decide they don’t need to carry water because they will follow the route to find the caches? What if the water caches are empty, damaged or tainted? What if the caches have been removed or relocated? There are too many scenarios that could end in disaster and that’s what needs to be avoided to begin with.
More effort needs to be put toward preventing the often deadly journey through remote regions. A mobile application like this does more harm than good to the very people it intends to aid.