A few months ago a friend told me about a camping trip that took her near the Arizona border. She and her husband were in Ajo, which is about 50 miles from the U.S. border, not far from Oregon Pipe Cactus National Monument, a 530-square-mile park and UNESCO biosphere reserve currently enjoying a boom in tourism. My friend and her husband were passing through Ajo on their way to Puerto Penasco, Mexico. Their intention was to cross at the Lukeville Border Crossing in Arizona. Puerto Penasco is a small coastal community built around shrimping and fishing.
This was the third time my friend and her husband had passed through Ajo. This time they intended to learn more about the Ajo Samaritans providing humanitarian aid at the border.
My friend shared with me what she learned.
According to documentation from the Pima County office of the medical examiner, for the past 10 years migration has moved further into the western desert.
This means people are crossing through areas further from established roads where temperatures are hotter and water resources scarce.
Spring and summer are the primary times of year for migrant crossing. It’s hot in the desert, so death by dehydration is a risk.
Eighty percent of migrant desert crossing deaths happen just outside of Ajo. Last year, 58 bodies were found in the Ajo adjacent desert.
The medical examiner’s office said those deaths were from starvation, dehydration, and exposure. One of the bodies found last year was that of a 15-year-old female.
“It’s legal to provide humanitarian aid,” my friend said. “Food, water, and emergency medical attention, but that’s it.” She said through Ajo Samaritans, she learned the migrants used to be mostly agricultural workers, mostly adult males. Now it’s refugees from Central and South America and they are all ages and male and female.
At some locations along the border local authorities have tried to discourage humanitarian efforts, labeling food and water as ‘litter.’ Some humanitarian aid workers in Ajo have been arrested and charged with littering. This spring, already five human bodies have been found in the Oregon Pipe National Monument. Some people might describe human remains as litter. What’s worse, water bottles or human bodies? I guess it depends on whom you ask.
Feeling humanitarian? Should you be camping this summer in the Ajo area, you can connect with the Ajo Samaritans to offer your skills even for a few days as a first responder, Spanish speaker, cook, paralegal or attorney, bookkeeper, grant writer, caregiver, or artist.
All that’s required is you be a person of good intention and conscience.
Even if you never leave Seaside, you can donate sturdy shoes, boots, smaller size men’s pants, and cash to the Ajo Samaritan effort.
“These people are real people and they are coming,” my friend said. The Ajo Samaritans are allied with other humanitarian groups including Tucson Samaritans, Border Angels, No More Deaths, Humane Borders, and The Florence Project. For more information about the Ajo Samaritans, call 360-910-2543 or 520-428-9207, or check out their Facebook page, Ajo Samaritans.
Immigration is a complex issue, but decency is not.