Today, October 12, 2014, the Border Songs cd has been out for two years. We have raised many thousands of dollars to help No More Deaths provide humanitarian aid to people in extreme need. I don’t have an accurate # for how much we have raised—our accountant has been busy—but let’s just say approximately $65,000. That’s a lot of water, food and medical supplies!
Today at the Flagstaff Community Market, and again on Facebook, a woman posed a thought-provoking, important, and perhaps slightly hostile question: “Who cleans up all the garbage you are leaving in the desert?,” she asked.
I provided a quick answer: “We” do! No More Deaths volunteers, as well as volunteers from all other humanitarian organizations working in the Sonoran desert (Humane Borders, Samaritans etc.) continually pick up trash and remove it from the desert.
Do the water bottles and migrant packs cached in the desert get discarded in the desert and do they remain there until someone, for example, a humanitarian, picks them up? Yes.
I think I can speak for all NMD and other humanitarians to say that we lament the accumulation of trash caused by undocumented immigration. None of us like to see trash in the desert. That said, isn’t it preferable to find empty water jugs (ie. trash from water that may have saved a life or lives) than a corpse?!
Sometimes, at water drops, migrants swap bottles filled with potential death for clean, life-saving water. As Margaret Randall writes in “Offended Turf” (on Border Songs), “abandoned plastic gallon jugs, some filled with the urine of desperation crack beneath mid-March sun.” Other times migrants leave bottles filled with stock pond water, often with floating cow feces. Drinking stock pond water likely sickened Josseline Jamileth Hernández Quinteros, the 14-year old girl from El Salvador whose death continues to resonate in the No More Deaths community.
Undocumented migrants are going to attempt to cross the border regardless of whether humanitarians attempt to provide aid. That is a fact. Migrants are in the desert and they have no guarantee or expectation of finding aid. They are desperate and sometimes ignorant of the dangers that await them. As long as there are people in the desert at risk, and dying–over 7000 human remains have been found in the borderlands since 1994–the ethical and moral approach is to provide people with humanitarian aid.
This is not an endorsement of anyone’s decision to cross the border without documents, it is simply a humane response. A cadaver in the desert is not “garbage,” it is a tragic loss of life that resulted from an inhumane global system that values the enrichment of some over the lives and misery of others.
The solution to our failed immigration policies is complicated by nefarious economic and political interests (the US labor industries, the for-profit prison industry and the border industrial complex). We will strive to find solutions though we know this will entail a very long process and struggle. Meanwhile the solution to trash in the desert is remarkably low-tech: People with garbage bags pick up the trash.
The solution to deaths in the desert is more urgent though still fairly simple: People need water, food and clothing. I told this woman that we welcome help from anyone and everyone who would like to be a part of the solution. . .
Many of us live too far from the border to cache water and pick up trash. All proceeds from Border Songs go directly to No More Deaths so that they can continue to provide aid. Each album purchased provides 29 gallons of water or the equivalent in food or medical supplies! Thank you for keeping the Border Songs project alive, so that it can help humanitarians save lives and reduce suffering!
Humanitarian aid is never a crime! No más muertes!