Every year, tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants cross the U.S-Mexican border into South Texas and travel — often on foot — along the two major highways that lead farther north into the state and which have become major human trafficking corridors. Every year, hundreds die of thirst while making the attempt.
Human rights activists and supporters, in conjunction with many ranchers, have tried to reduce the number of deaths by placing water stations along the trafficking corridor. Bright white flags emblazoned with the familiar symbol for aid, a red cross, fly over the ranch lands. The flags mark the locations of bright blue barrels which contain gallon jugs of water free for the taking.
South of San Antonio, Texas is mostly large swaths of rural land occupied by ranches measured in the thousands of acres (some take up multiple counties). The terrain is mostly flat, but extremely unforgiving.
The entire lower quarter of the state is comprised of what is called “thorn scrub forest” and it’s exactly what it sounds like: thick, dense and extremely prickly vegetation. From mesquite trees with their inch-and-a-half long barbs, to prickly pear cactus — known locally as nopales — to a number of other drought tolerant spiny plants that are strewn across the landscape, the going can be tough for a person attempting to make the journey on foot. Even the most rugged 4x4 truck can (and often has been) defeated by the terrain. It’s not unheard of for a plant thorn to pierce a tire.
Then there are the animals that exist in this inhospitable place: several species of scorpions, rattlesnakes, tarantulas and other spiders, just to name a few.
Combine that terrain with a climate that includes around nine months of “summer” — temperatures in the 90s in the spring to the 110s at the height of summer — and 80 percent humidity or more... well then it’s easy to see how a person could quickly succumb to heat stroke.
But, driven by myriad factors: fear of violence back home, hope for better employment to help their families, etc. this journey becomes the only plausible option for many. The risks, including the risk of death, seems an acceptable one.
Think of how desperate you’d have to be to consider this option as the better to another. Consider the hopelessness, the dire reality of these people who put their trust in coyotes (smugglers) who will abandon them in a heartbeat in order to protect their own skins. Consider the bleakness of that situation.
How someone could deny a person that desperate a drink of water in a veritable desert, I do not know. But that’s not a person I would care to know.
Below you can see that the water is, indeed, put to use. One of the jugs shows evidence of a previous traveler who took only what he or she needed and left the rest for those who follow.
A Border Patrol agent pulled off the road as I was taking the photo below at sunset. We had a nice chat.
I don’t envy his position: being sympathetic to the humanity of the immigrants’ plight while simultaneously being tasked with their apprehension, detention, and subsequently, being part of the chain of events leading to their deportation.
For a more in depth look at the story behind these water barrels and the organization that places them, there’s a great story here.
Relevant camera info: All images taken with an iPhone 6S. Edited in either Snapseed or Hipstamatic. Wanted to test out my new phone, so... yeah.
Hope you enjoyed.