If you’ve lived in Southern Arizona for any length of time you know what the heat can do, and odds are that you came to that lesson the hard way. That time you overestimated how much shade that hike would have, the bike ride that ran longer than expected, those pesky corner weeds whose day had come.
Fortunately for most of us the injury was minor and quickly resolved. But that feeling of thirst, of overpowering heat, tends to stick with you. What happens if you’re stuck out in the desert? What happens when water isn’t readily available?
For close to 2,000 people over the last decade alone, the answer was death.
That’s what makes the conduct of some Border Patrol agents — who tamper with water jugs left by humanitarian aid groups — unconscionable and monstrous. Their actions, a deluded attempt at deterrence and a perversion of their mission, must not be allowed to continue.
Border Patrol must do better in identifying and appropriately punishing agents that engage in this behavior. Trying to cross into the U.S. without proper immigration status, while wrong, should not be a death sentence.
As reported in the Star, a new report by No More Deaths humanitarian organization found widespread vandalizing of gallon water jugs left for people crossing the U.S.-Mexico border on foot — people who often find themselves traveling for days or weeks over rough terrain in life-threatening conditions. Between 2012 and 2015, the group distributed more than 31,500 jugs of water over an approximately 800-square mile area near Arivaca. Of these, more than 3,500 were either slashed, poured out, smashed or tampered with.
Although the group notes that some of the vandalism was probably done by hunters or hikers — animals destroyed 533 gallons, too, but that number is tallied separately — most of the 415 incidents recorded over the three-year period are attributable to Border Patrol agents, based on where the incidents took place. No More Deaths also released video and photos of agents pouring out, slashing and kicking water gallons, as well as removing blankets left for border crossers.
One of these recorded incidents in 2012 prompted Tucson sector leadership to specifically instruct agents to respect humanitarian workers and provisions. Judging by the evidence, the directive seems to have been ignored by some.
It is undeniable that the men and women of the Border Patrol face dangerous conditions every day and that many of them are as dedicated to the protection of human life as they are to protecting our borders. Members of the Border Patrol Search, Trauma, and Rescue unit train in emergency search and rescue and at times risk their lives to save injured migrants.
It is an insult to these agents, who hold themselves to the high standards that their position demands, to continue to tolerate individuals who do not belong in a position of power. A person who is willing to destroy what may be someone’s only chance of survival, who is willing to thoughtlessly condemn someone to death, does not deserve to be part of the Border Patrol.
No More Deaths and immigration authorities should put aside their adversarial relationship and work together to identify these agents. The Border Patrol should make this kind on interference with humanitarian aid a fireable offense and immediately remove those responsible.