The death tolls of the summers of 2020 and 2021 were exceptionally high, but migrant deaths in the Arizona borderlands are far from unusual. It’s common knowledge in Arizona that every year, at least 100 people will lose their lives trying to make it to the United States. Most of these fatalities happen on the Tohono O’odham Nation’s tribal lands; CBP has responded to this crisis by installing surveillance towers on the reservation, but the crossings and deaths haven’t stopped. Humanitarian aid groups do their best to prevent these deaths from happening: some dispatch search and rescue teams to look for migrants who have gone missing in the desert; others leave water jugs and other supplies on migrant trails in the hopes that they’ll save a life. When those efforts fail, they attempt to log all the remains they find and identify the deceased. Despite their dedication, these groups lack the resources, manpower, and legal might of the federal government. Members of No More Deaths have been arrested for leaving water in the desert and accused of harboring migrants. Two O’odham women were sent to a medium-security prison after being arrested for protesting wall construction on their ancestral land. The government isn’t just using its resources to surveil and arrest migrants; it’s also going after the people who might save their lives.
Southwestern Arizona isn’t home to much in the way of urban development. Between Yuma and Tucson, there’s just a whole lot of Sonoran wilderness — the desolate territory migrants coming across the Mexican border have to navigate on their way to safety. But as Gaby Del Valle chronicles, the searing arid heat and unforgiving mountains are by no means the only threats facing these travelers.