Life and Death In the Desert: Some Coyotes Are Wild

More information on the massive pickup of deserted border crossers comes from today's New York Times. Authorities were searching for at least 200 people after finding a large group who'd been abandoned by the guides or smugglers -- coyotes -- who had apparently left them in a dry riverbed to wait in 110-degree heat.

"The immigrants told the authorities that three people in their group had died and that hundreds more remained hidden in the desert. The authorities have been unable to verify those claims.

"The discoveries were surprising because so many people were left with such little protection from the midsummer heat."

Only seven people were taken to the hospital, which, frankly, surprises me. Out of groups that large, in those conditions, "without water or shelter", as NYT says, I'm sure more than seven were suffering from dehydration if not displaying at least some symptoms of heat exhaustion, which can cause strokes and prove fatal.

Coyotes often run a kind of relay with the people in their charge, passing them to other folks after a certain point in the journey. Sometimes migrants wait for contacts that never show, which may have happened in this case. Sometimes, the migrants get stolen from their coyotes by bandits who wait in the desert to rob them and often try to extort money from any relatives the migrants may have in the USA.

Coyotes also have been known to try to, shall we say, chemically motivate the migrants. They have a pace to keep: They run a business after all. Cans of Red Bull litter migrant trails throughout the desert, and smugglers have been known to give amphetamines to those in their charge. These stimulants may work in the short term but can worsen the effects of dehydration and sometimes, particularly when the straggler's energy crashes after using the drugs, can cause the person to lag behind anyway. And the general rule out there -- at least for the coyotes -- is if you fall behind, you stay behind. Most don't have the water to survive the trek at a slower pace (which means over a longer time period). The extended trek also increases the risk of serious blisters which can slow a migrant or stop him or her altogether. In the scorching heat of the desert. To die. Alone.

I know that sounds dramatic, but it is dramatic. The No More Deaths folks told me about a 14-year-old boy someone found crawling alone in the desert. His feet where white from blistering, and he was almost delirious from the effects of the heat. At the hospital, he referred to his feet as having been "de-gloved". He had worn all of the layers of skin from his feet. He would probably need a skin graft.

Deportation arrangements for those picked up this week are under way, and the search continues. The politics of this issue take on a different level of importance for me -- both more remote and more dire -- when considering the actual human risk of having to cross in the desert, out of the eyes of the law and far from help.


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