Humane Borders is recasting itself as it enters its second decade of putting out water tanks for people crossing the desert in attempts to enter the U.S. illegally.
The founder, the Rev. Robin Hoover, has been gone for more than 1 1/2 years, and the faith-based organization has settled on new leadership, new headquarters and a less political approach it hopes will attract new donors and volunteers.
The mission remains the same - keeping its blue water tanks filled.
"Missions live on longer than people do," said Bob Feinman, a board member. "Organizations of belief of any sort, if they are worth their weight in salt, many times transcend generations long after those who were first identified with those organizations have gone."
The new leaders say they're grateful for the time, vision and passion Hoover and his wife, Sue Goodman, invested to put the organization on the international map as Arizona became the busiest stretch of U.S.-Mexico border for illegal crossings and deaths. Hoover, who remains active in migrant-safety issues, declined to discuss the events that led to his departure from Humane Borders.
While he was the face of the organization for the first decade, Humane Borders will now be represented by several faces - some old, some new.
The new executive director is Juanita Molina, a 20-year veteran of social-activism organizations who recently moved back to Arizona from Northern California. She considers herself the point person for the organization but said she won't be the only one handling media interviews or making appearances on behalf of the group. These four will share those duties:
• Longtime volunteer Felipe Lundin, who has been president of the board of directors for the last 2 1/2 years.
• The Rev. Liana Rowe, the organization's Phoenix coordinator, who has been with Humane Borders almost since the beginning.
• Rev. Randy Mayer, the organization's director of external relations and the minister at Good Shepherd United Church of Christ in Sahuarita.
• Feinman, who worked for 40 years in Spanish-language radio in Arizona and remains active in Southern Arizona and Sonora, Mexico, business circles.
"There are so many incredibly knowledgeable activists that are part of our organization," Molina said. "And we operate as a unit together."
The organization has moved its office and fleet of trucks to the House of Neighborly Services in southern Tucson. It had previously been based at the First Christian Church at East Speedway and North Euclid Avenue.
The Tucson-based group recently became officially recognized by the IRS as a 501(c)(3) charitable organization. Before, the group received donations through a church that had the IRS designation.
That means donors now can make tax-deductible donations directly to Humane Borders - but it also means the organization must remain more politically neutral. IRS rules prohibit 501(c)(3) groups from being "action organizations" that attempt to influence legislation or participate in campaign activity.
The IRS designation has forced the group to refocus on the principal mission, Feinman said. "Saving lives, taking death out of the equation of immigration is the mission," Feinman said.
He believes this approach could open the door to new donors and supporters, including from the Jewish community and from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Lundin said Humane Borders' top priority is to persuade the Tohono O'odham Nation to allow water tanks on its land. The nation has, over the last decade, rejected requests from Hoover and others to put out water.
More than half of the bodies of illegal border crossers found in 2010 and handled by the Pima County Medical Examiner's Office were found on the Tohono O'odham Nation, shows a GPS map created by Humane Borders' John Chamblee of the University of Georgia. The nation shares 75 miles of border with Mexico and is the size of Connecticut, stretching north into Pinal County.
Their ultimate wish, supporters say, is for there to be no need for a group like Humane Borders. But that's unlikely to happen soon - deaths of border crossers continue at about 200 a year, including a record 249 in calendar year 2010.
"We really, really want to be out of business," Lundin said. "We wish there was comprehensive immigration reform. We wish somebody would grab that bull by the horns and fix it but nobody has, and so we're still here."
Fast Facts: Humane Borders
Founded: June 11, 2000
First water station put out with official permit: March 7, 2001
Water stations in use today: About 45, each in a blue tank with a blue flag.
Budget: $145,138 in 2010, down from its peak of $205,000 in 2006.
Mission: To prevent deaths of people crossing the border into the United States through Arizona. Since 2001, the bodies of more than 2,100 illegal border crossers have been recovered in Arizona's desert.
Did you know
Humane Borders' big dipper logo features the "drinking gourd" from the slavery abolitionist movement and water pouring from the dipper to symbolize Humane Borders' humanitarian assistance.
Contact reporter Brady McCombs at 573-4213 or firstname.lastname@example.org