The Tucson Samaritans are one of a number of groups that are working to prevent unnecessary deaths in the Arizona desert. My friend and colleague Bob Kee contributed the following piece to explain what the Samaritans do and what you can do to help.
Prompted by mounting deaths, the Tucson Samaritans made its first trip to the desert in July 2002. The Samaritans are a diverse group of faith and conscience based people responding to the crisis at the US/Mexico border. The Sams (Samaritans) consist totally of volunteers united to provide aid and assistance to those crossing the Sonoran desert. The aid and assistance comes in the form of water (lack of it can mean certain death in the desert), food and emergency medical care.
Providing humanitarian aid to people in distress is not illegal. Our guiding operating principle is that of Civil Initiative, which states that our responsibility for protecting the persecuted must be balanced by our accountability to the legal order. Civil Initiative is nonviolent, truthful, wide-ranging, cooperative, pertinent, volunteer-based and community centered.
The Samaritans are a transparent organization, open and subject to public examination. Our presence is known by Border Patrol and other government agencies that do their field work in the desert. Over the years we have had many cooperative incidents with Border Patrol in the field. We patrol the desert in donated vehicles displaying bright red Samaritan/Samaritanos signs on the sides of the doors.
The Samaritan volunteers are challenged with covering an area of approximately 2000 square miles. We attempt to do this 365 days a year given that personnel is available. The summers in the Sonoran Desert can be brutally hot, reaching temperatures above 110 degrees. The winter temperatures in the desert, especially in the mountainous regions, will often drop below freezing at night. The exposure to these two extremes creates situations that place migrants in danger of hyperthermia (above normal body temps) and hypothermia (subnormal body temps). The increased presence of Border Patrol with their utilization of what appears to be unlimited resources has pushed the migrants into the more mountainous and treacherous areas. This shift to the mountains means people will spend a greater amount of time and exposure on their journey because moving through the mountains is slow and dangerous. Therefore the longer people are taking on their trek North the possibility of problems occurring rise significantly.
Although the numbers of people crossing the Arizona desert are down, the death toll is up. Last year 224 Recovered Human Remains were documented in the Tucson sector. This is an increase of 19% over 2009. Last year’s death toll was the second highest in the last decade. Speaking of the last decade, it has been called the decade of death.
The continuing deaths and encounters in the desert mandate our conviction to alleviate suffering and be a witness to what goes on in our own backyard. Since the Sams beginning in 2002 we have helped hundreds of migrants. Witnessing this first hand our aid and intervention has been life saving for many. Given the economical and political climate of both the US and Mexico this migration will not stop and deaths will continue to occur, perhaps in even greater numbers. The current immigration policy is a failure. Families have been torn apart and will at all cost try to unite. This places many thousands of people in the desert and mountains and puts them at tremendous risk but they will continue to come.
We are actively seeking to change border policy by serving as witness to its failures. We advocate a more realistic and humane border policy. Through the media, the internet and other possible means we hope to draw attention to the suffering in the desert.
The Samaritans are always looking for volunteers and supporters. I hope this information provides an overview and some details about what we do. Please visit our website at www.tucsonsamaritans.org for more information and how to contact us if you would like to participate in a Sams patrol.