An abandoned teapot with discarded cups and sugar. A long-forgotten blanket covered a prickly cholla cactus.
These are just some of the items that volunteers and immigrant rights advocates have found in the unforgiving desert that separates the United States from Mexico, where untold numbers of asylum seekers pass every day.
Experts say rising temperatures and a lingering heat wave in the Southwest have exacerbated an already difficult migration crisis and endangered the lives of migrants who often undertake long and dangerous journeys without food, water or sun protection.
“People just don’t know what they’re dealing with,” said Laurie Cantillo, a board member and volunteer with Humane Borders, a nonprofit group that sets up water stations and delivers supplies to people trying to cross into the US. USA through remote and unforgiving places. landscapes
Oppressive heat has blanketed much of the southern half of the United States, from Arizona to Florida, for nearly two weeks, bringing early-season triple-digit temperatures for millions of people on both sides of the border.
Texas, which has been sweltering under an intense heat wave for much of June, was considered one of the hottest places in the world earlier this week, but is expected to cool down a bit over the weekend.
Scorching conditions have been blamed for at least 13 deaths in the state, health officials said.
When Cantillo first arrived at Arizona’s Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument last week, temperatures topped 115 degrees, he said. He came across a mother with a baby strapped to her back, neither of whom were using sunscreen. Cantillo and other volunteers provided the family with granola bars, water and hats.
“Sometimes they come so ill-prepared,” Cantillo said. “The coyotes tell them to just cross and someone will pick them up, but it could be days before they find them.”
Immigration officials and law enforcement have warned people seeking asylum or entering the United States through illegal means to avoid dangerous crossing conditions as extreme heat grips the region. Law enforcement officers are equipped with extra water and extra medics, but the Texas Department of Public Safety hasn’t seen an increase in heat-related emergencies, Lt. Chris Olivarez said.
Still, officers treated a 10-year-old boy for heat exhaustion earlier in the summer and responded to four drownings in the river. Last week, a body was found floating on the Mexican side of the Rio Grande.
In an emailed statement, US Customs and Border Protection said it has recorded recent deaths, but did not provide a number.
“The terrain along the border is extreme, the summer heat severe, and the miles that desert migrants must walk after crossing the border in many areas are unforgiving,” the statement read in part. «The individuals who made the decision to make the perilous journey into this territory have died of dehydration, starvation and heat stroke despite CBP’s best efforts to locate them.»
Researchers have discovered that it is not just the high temperatures that contribute to deaths during crossing attempts, but also the physical exertion required to traverse remote regions without proper preparation.
in a study Published earlier this month in the journal Spatial and Spatio-temporal Epidemiology, researchers from universities in Arizona, Ireland and the Netherlands looked at 2,746 deaths between 1990 and 2022 and noted that undocumented border crossers died even at higher elevations. where the temperatures are lower. presumably cooler.
The researchers concluded that the simple act of crossing rough terrain requires more physical effort and can have negative health outcomes when people are not properly equipped to undertake long and difficult journeys.
Daniel Martinez, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Arizona in Tucson and one of the study’s authors, said the recent lifting of Title 42, which makes deportation more likely, has contributed to people trying to cross the border in places remote. far from man-made borders.
«Now it’s not that rare to spend three, four, five days in the desert,» he said. “We caution lawmakers and the media to keep in mind that while there is seasonality to migrant deaths in the summer months, it is only part of the equation. They are also the policies implemented”.
Across the Texas border in Matamoros, Mexico, Sister Norma Pimentel, executive director of the Rio Grande Valley chapter of Catholic Charities, estimates that some 2,000 asylum seekers have set up a makeshift encampment near an affluent neighborhood that he is eager to get rid of them. Many of the refugee camp residents told her and other volunteers that they were fed up with waiting to make appointments through the CBP One app, which migrants use to make appointments at the border when seeking to enter the United States.
Some of the most frustrated people leave camp and attempt to traverse remote regions, while others languish in legal limbo.
The application has come under fire in recent weeks after Title 42 was lifted. Immigration advocates say the application is cumbersome and takes too long to secure an appointment, while opponents say it is only encouraging more people to cross into the US illegally. The Biden administration has said the enforcement is among measures that have helped reduce illegal immigration by more than 70%. since Title 42 ended.
“Right now, the heat is terrible, you can’t escape it no matter where you go,” Pimentel said. «Some people get lucky and get that appointment, but there are a lot of people who don’t.»
Pimentel said he is working closely with Mexican authorities to open a new shelter in Matamoros. One possible location would be an empty hospital with running water and air conditioning. Failing that, Pimentel said the hospital parking lot can be used to set up tents and sleeping areas. The problem, however, remains hot air and a lack of supplies for the thousands of people waiting to enter the United States.
“It’s so disorganized right now,” he said.
Conditions there are quickly turning dangerous in the sweltering heat, said Christina Asencio, director of research and analysis for the nonpartisan group Human Rights First. On Thursday, she met a Haitian mother and her 1-month-old son living in an open-air camp with no sanitation or plumbing.
During the same trip, he met a woman from Venezuela who had recently suffered a heart attack and another woman from Honduras who had been raped in the camp and fought her attacker when he returned a second time.
None of these people had been able to secure appointments through the CBP One app despite what Asencio described as credible asylum claims, he said.