A group of Texas volunteers deliver water to migrants in record heat

Amid unrelenting heat, volunteers are filling about 175 watering stations in Brooks County, Texas, about 70 miles north of the US-Mexico border. The water is a lifeline for migrants trying to avoid the US Border Patrol checkpoint at Falfurrias.

Sandra Sanchez, a journalist with Border Report, accompanied the South Texas Human Rights Center, the body that recharges the water stations. Listen to the interview above or read the transcript below.

This transcript has been slightly edited for clarity:

Texas Standard: Tell us about the conditions hiking through the brush in Brooks County. Where are the migrants really headed after all?

Sandra Sanchez: Brooks County is approximately 70 miles from the Mexican border. They’re all heading to Houston. It’s a popular drop off location where smugglers take these migrants, and in order to get around the Border Patrol checkpoint in Falfurrias, which is kind of a desolate place out of nowhere in Brooks County, they drop off the migrants and tell them to walk about 20 miles through the brush.

Many don’t. There have already been 60 migrant deaths so far this year in Brooks County. Last year there were 119, and in the entire Rio Grande Valley area there were 140. So you can see that almost half of the deaths are in that area, the county of Brooks. Setting up these watering stations therefore means helping these people to survive if they are abandoned, injured or lost, because a coyote or a guide will not be waiting for them.

What is striking, especially considering the high number of people who go missing, is that the heat and the terrain do not prevent these migrants from trying to make this trek. Don’t they get the message? Didn’t they hear nobody say it’s as treacherous as it is?

No, they don’t. They pay an average of $8,000 a head to the cartels. Border Patrol is doing its best to try and get the word out to tell people in Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Mexico don’t try to come north because when you get to this land you’re not going just not survive it. But they are so desperate for a number of reasons that they make the trip anyway.

Tell us about this organization that fills these water stations, the South Texas Human Rights Center.

Eddie Canales is a longtime Chicano defenseman. He started that in 2013. They have 175 watering stations, as you mentioned. They are giant blue buckets. And when you lift the lid, you’ll see the GPS coordinates; you will see words written in Spanish for people to call for help, to tell their loved ones where they are. I’m told that most migrants carry cellphones on their bodies to tell friends and family, “Hey, you know, I’m here and I’m hurt.”

Eddie’s volunteer group is therefore entirely dependent on donations. And the day we were there he put out over 150 gallons. We have traveled a few hundred kilometers. It was triple-digit heat. I was exhausted and riding in a truck.

Is the Border Patrol doing anything to reduce the number of migrant deaths?

They do. They have a migrant rescue program; it’s a bit like a migrant protection program. And they’ve set up rescue beacons across the region – red buttons that migrants push. Border Patrol always comes with bottled water and IV supplies, and they offer emergency medical care to every migrant they come to. But that’s just it: in this kind of terrain, you’re not going to hit them all. Those who are just walking in this very thick and loamy sandy ground full of snakes and boars.

That’s why Eddie publishes them. These water stations were attacked by many people. They put cameras on them. They took them apart. He says, you know, he got a lot of threatening phone calls and emails. Not everyone wants them and not all herders will allow them on their property, as they say it could encourage illegal migration to the area.

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