Close to 300 people -- adults and children alike -- die every year from dehydration and the effects of the scorching desert sun crossing the desert along the border between the United States and Mexico. Over the last year, 229 people died in the deserts of Arizona and New Mexico alone; regardless of one's views on undocumented immigration, it's imperative these tragic deaths be prevented. A volunteer organization called Paisanos al Rescate (countrymen to the rescue) is working to do just that, using an aging Cessna to bring water and hope to those crossing the desert.
Armando Alarcon founded the group in the summer of 2004, and he and his volunteers fly over the borderland desert multiple times every week, looking for signs of people crossing over. When immigrants are spotted, Paisanos al Rescate drops water in parcels, sheathed in heavy bubblewrap, attached to nylon-webbing parachutes normally used for Army signal flares. Two liter bottles are dropped for every person in the group, along with instructions for how to signal distress. The goal isn't to aid undocumented migrants to get into the US, but to prevent needless deaths. According to volunteer Luis Rivas, interviewed by Gisell Velazquez for the latest Pop and Politics, the US Border Patrol has come to welcome their efforts:
PP: Does Paisanos al Rescate ever come into conflict with the Border Patrol or other such government agencies?
LR: No. Andy Adame, a Border Patrol spokesman, was quoted as saying that we are one of the better humanitarian organizations out there. We work in cooperation with the BP. We will notify the BP if we encounter anyone in distress. The BP will send the BORSTAR team (Search and Rescue) and provide aid to those in distress.
Many of the deaths of migrants come as a result of smugglers simply abandoning to the desert those who are injured or too slow to keep up. Deaths resulting from something as minor as a sprained ankle are far too common. Illegal immigration is a complex issue, but saving the lives of people at risk of a slow, painful death is not.