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Water ‘Angels’ Save Migrants On U.S. Border

By Sara Puig

Jacumba (United States) (AFP) — Every year, would-be immigrants steal across the U.S.-Mexican border — and over the years, thousands have died in the baking, snake-infested desert on either side.

A group of activists is now working to keep the desperate migrants alive.

The so-called “Border Angels” hide bottles of water in the desert along the border, where temperatures can top 113 degrees Fahrenheit.

“Lots of them die of thirst while crossing,” said Enrique Morones, his arms full of water bottles near the fence in California’s Imperial Valley designed to stem the tide of migrants from central America.

“The lack of water is the primary cause of death for the 10,000 people who have died while illegally crossing these desert regions,” said Morones, a Mexican-American from San Diego who founded Border Angels 20 years ago.

Staff members leave the large water bottles under shrubs on both sides of the border, from Sonora and Baja California in Mexico to Arizona and California.

“You have to put the bottles underneath foliage,” says Nelly, a Peruvian who has worked for the group since June.

That was when a genuine crisis erupted as a huge tide of migrants began sweeping across the border, many of them unaccompanied minors, leaving police and immigration centers struggling to cope.

Since October, nearly 65,000 children have arrived, most of them fleeing poverty and violence in central America.

– Unfriendly locals –

Border guards patrol the frontier in vehicles, watching every movement, helped by hundreds of cameras, sensors, and airborne drones invisible to the naked eye.

They know that migrants will take advantage of the slightest distraction to try to climb over the steel border fence.

But the guards do not touch the water bottles, in part because U.S. authorities have “no official position” on them, said Morones.

A few bottles end up with holes in them, mostly due to coyotes, but also because of local residents.

“Look at that bottle! Someone broke it!” Morones said.

“It’s difficult to understand why someone would do that. Water can save lives.”

For Juan Hernandez, another Mexican-American who works with pro-immigrant groups, the Imperial Valley “does not distinguish itself by its solidarity” with those coming across the border.

The rural region “is inhabited by white people looking for cheap labor,” he added. And those residents don’t want people on their land once harvest season is over.

– Dying in the heat –

Activists regularly find corpses in the desert — migrants who have succumbed to the heat, exhaustion, or dehydration.

More than 600 unidentified victims have been laid to rest in a cemetery near the small town of Holtville, at the very gates of the “American Dream” they fought so hard to reach.

It is known as “The cemetery of those who will not be forgotten.” On their modest graves, crosses bear the message, “You are not alone.”

Morones claims that, faced with the recent surge in undocumented migrants across the border, U.S. authorities have decided to incinerate the remains and “sprinkle the ashes in the sea off the coast of San Diego.”

The number of migrants making the trek has begun to drop in the last two months, as Mexico and Central American countries have stepped up vigilance — under immense U.S. pressure.

But “this flow will never stop,” said Hernandez.

“We have to change the way we do things to live more peacefully. We Mexicans, we are a majority in the border region,” he said.

U.S. President Barack Obama, whose immigration reform bill is blocked in Congress, has postponed any executive action until after November mid-term elections, seeking to shield lawmakers crucial to his Democratic party’s hopes of maintaining control of the Senate.

AFP Photo/Mark Ralston

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U.S. Child Migrant Crisis: One Family’s Story

By Sara Puig

Los Angeles (AFP) — It took Dora and Elias six weeks of nail-biting anguish before finally reuniting with their 13-year-old daughter in Los Angeles after she fled El Salvador.

The girl, whose name is being withheld to protect her identity, is among more than 57,000 minors who have entered the United States illegally without adult companions since October. Most are fleeing violence and poverty in Central America.

“When a child arrives in the United States, it’s difficult to know where they are,” Elias told AFP as he described the long process “filled with misinformation” to reunite with his daughter.

Early this year, the teenager was forced by a gang to sell drugs at her village school. Terrified, she confided in her aunt but the criminal gang got wind that she had revealed the scheme, and beat her.

“That’s when we started to think about when we could bring her here. She was in danger,” said Elias.

The 50-year-old runs a small business with his wife Dora in Los Angeles. He was outspoken in his criticism of the crime and corruption rattling El Salvador.

“Even the police was scared of the case,” he said.

So the family decided to sell its only property in El Salvador in order to gather the money needed to pay a “coyote” who would guide the girl to the U.S. border.

– Hunger, cold and lice –

Around June 13, the girl was stopped by U.S. border agents in McAllen, Texas, the epicenter of the migration crisis swamping American authorities and infrastructure.

“In this detention center, she spent eight days without being able to take a shower. She was cold. They gave her a plastic blanket to cover herself and sleep,” Elias said with a lump in his throat.

Dora, who is in her 40s, could barely hold back tears as she recalled the time they finally saw their daughter again.

“She was covered in lice. She said she had been very hungry,” Dora recalled.

U.S. authorities transferred the girl to another center.

“We never knew where she was. In the end, they brought her to Arkansas, instead of bringing her to California,” Elias sighed.

All that Dora and Elias needed to pick up their daughter was to present documents proving they were her parents.

But in the midst of all the required procedures, they faced a social worker who wanted them to pay for “medical services.”

The parents felt suspicious and asked for help from the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles rights group.

“They started investigating and this woman was not registered anywhere as a social worker. I think she was trying to blackmail us,” Elias said.

The couple is now awaiting a hearing with a migration judge but faces a new problem because they lack “proof” of what happened to their daughter in El Salvador.

But her chances of obtaining refugee status and staying in the United States hinges on that proof.

President Barack Obama has repeatedly warned that children who have entered the United States illegally will be deported.

The process to determine the status of Elias and Dora’s daughter is expected to take several years.

In the meantime, the teen will go to school and start psychotherapy.

“She arrived a traumatized child. She is suddenly hung up and rebellious toward us,” Elias said.

“In a way, she is happy to be here but she feels inadequate. We had been separated for eight years — almost her entire childhood.”

AFP Photo/Jesus Alcazar

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