The current philosophy of the Border Patrol is "prevention through deterrence," which essentially means, "If we make crossing the border dangerous and dehumanizing enough, people will just stop trying." Here's what some down here think of this philosophy:
See, the thing is, the number of yearly border crossing deaths has doubled since 1995, when "prevention through deterrence" translated into the extreme border militarization we see today. Since people can no longer cross in safer, urban zones like Tijuana or Juarez/El Paso, they take to the desert, walking for days on end to reach a pick-up point, many perishing along the way. So the philosophy falls apart: because it does nothing to address the root causes of migration, people are crossing just as much if not more than before, but more are losing their lives to the cruel Sonoran desert.
I took off with Samaritans yesterday at 7 a.m., and we've gotten only 20 miles from Tucson when we find two men walking along the side of the highway. They said they'd been walking for five days, and gratefully accepted our food and water. But what they most needed was information. They were so disoriented in the desert landscape that they didn't know which way was North, and also didn't know about Operation Streamline, which would make life very unpleasant for them were they caught. They asked if we could give them a ride, just to the nearest gas station, and it was heartbreaking to have to tell them no. Though individual members have engaged in civil disobedience, Samaritans as an organization operates inside the law. We can give aid, but not a ride. In fact, two volunteers a few years ago were arrested and brought to trial for giving a dying migrant a ride to a hospital. It's all part of the current trend of characterizing humanitarian aid as a crime. Maybe soon the Department of Homeland Security will try to make giving food and water illegal too. One Samaritans volunteer is currently on trial for leaving jugs of water on a migrant trail. He's being charged with littering in a national wildlife reserve.
Anyways, another important lesson from the day is the arbitrariness of Border Patrol policy. If we come upon them detaining someone, and ask if we can give the migrant food and water, it's totally up to the individual agent. Some say sure, some say get out of here. We also noticed that there's a group mentality in the BP. When we found one agent, he was polite and answered all our questions, but when we walked up to a bunch of agents all surrounding this one man they had cuffed, they yelled at us to get back in our vehicle, all trying to out-macho each other. Talk about a system with no oversight!
Those were the highlights of the all-day patrol. In other news, the desert is just starting to bloom and is incredibly beautiful. But the rising temperatures are bad news for those crossing. I have to remind myself how lucky I am to always be able to climb back into my air-conditioned vehicle and speed away.