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Know the West

What they left behind: Items found in the Borderlands

Humanitarian groups track traces of migrants crossing the border.


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