Every day, hundreds of immigrants risk their lives making the trek across the desert between the United States and Mexico. Since 1998, over 6,500 have died trying to make it into the U.S. The primary cause of death is dehydration.
Border Angels, an advocacy group based in San Diego, is trying to change that by dropping off jugs of water in the desert every month.
Nearly 400 people showed up to their event in December, the second largest gathering in the group’s history. Many in the group volunteer to make a political statement, while others say their goal is to keep people alive.
For Pedro Luna, it’s personal. He made the trip close to forty years ago.
“I’m reliving my experience,“ he said. “I always wanted a better future for me and my family.”
His family joined him that Saturday morning, each of them holding a water bottle with encouraging messages written on the plastic, like ‘keep going.’
“I’m back to help those in need walking in this desert that is so inhospitable, so sad, and so exasperating during parts of the trip,” Pedro said.
Organizers say each trail was chosen based on ‘death maps’ released by the county coroner. The paths volunteers will walk are the routes where most immigrant deaths have been reported.
In the winter, immigrants face an additional danger: hypothermia. For this water drop, Border Angels also brought sweaters, scarves and gloves to leave for the border-crossers they’ll never meet but hope to save.
It’s an easy hike for the volunteers. Only three miles on this occasion, compared to the usual three days for others. The deadly journey may be at least 30 miles and include jagged rocks, poisonous snakes and rough terrain. Aside from braving mother nature, immigrants usually face rape, robbery and sometimes murder by gangs and cartels.
Aleny Gomez still remembers the joy she felt when she reunited with her parents in the United States. They sent her and her sister ahead to cross through the immigration checkpoint with relatives while they made the trip through the desert.
"I remember my mom just telling me, ‘always stay with your sister.’” Aleny said. “And I was six so I thought, ‘am I ever going to see my parents again?’ I had no idea."
She says for days her dad had nothing to eat but a pack of cookies. And for that sacrifice, Aleny says she will always be grateful to her parents.
"Now I have what I have because of that, because of what they did," she said.
And to the immigrants risking their lives today for a better tomorrow, the volunteers who leave them water and clothes in the desert want to say: 'Welcome.'
"Immigrants make America great,” Frank Sloat, a volunteer, said. “That's why it's their land, not just my land. It's their land too."