GARCIA: Death in the Desert

News & Politics
Columnist's Note: On May 19, more than 30 illegal immigrants crossed the U.S.-Mexico border in a remote and desolate region near Yuma, Arizona. Hoping to find work in North Carolina, the group of men and women, most from the Mexican states of Veracruz and Guerrero, were led north on foot into the desert by smugglers, known as "coyotes." Officials say the ground temperature would reach above 115 degrees over the next several days. The following is how I imagine one of those immigrants faced that journey.

Day 1: (10 p.m.)

Why do I even ask the question? I am here because I am Mexican. It's God's will. That's the way it is. The destiny of the poor is to suffer. But why must we suffer so much?

The heat today is incredible. I've never felt heat like this. The smugglers who left us behind the truckstop didn't tell us it would be this hot. It must be more than 100 degrees.

I wonder what the rest are thinking. We've only been walking for three hours, but the women already seem tired. Some of them are too old to be out here. It's too dangerous for them. This heat could kill them quickly. And if they survive the heat, there are delinquents ready to steal their life savings.

Should mind my own business? Or should I tell them that the thing to do is to remember that once we arrive in North Carolina everything will be okay?

First we have to make it through today. In less than a week we'll all be in North Carolina and we'll all be working. The work's hard, but it pays well. And that's money we can send to improve the lives of our families in Chamizal.

I could tell them how last year I bought a used television with the money I earned. And how we put a concrete floor in our house. And how we're almost finished building a small bedroom for the children, so they won't have to sleep on the floor in our bedroom anymore.

Day 2: (11 a.m.)

The water is almost gone. My head is beginning to ache. My throat feels like it's made of sandpaper. My eyes are playing tricks on me.

Sometimes the plants and rocks appear to scamper like frightened rabbits. I know it's only a hallucination. Should I drink my water now? Or should I drink my urine? The smuggler told us that urine is like poison and will only make us sick. Everyone thinks the smuggler is a liar. He lied about how long it would take us to reach the pick up point. I feel as if the sun is grilling me like a goat on a spit. Or as if I stubbed my foot against a rock I'd burst into flames.

Day 3: (1 a.m.)

It must still be 90 degrees, but I'm shivering and I have goose bumps. One of the old men told me it's because I'm dying of thirst. He also said some of the others are missing. He said the skinny man named Eduardo, who looks a little like dark-skinned Jesus Christ, said some of them decided they couldn't walk anymore and would wait for us to bring back help.

I should try to sleep. I still have the plastic trash bag the smugglers gave us to use as blankets. I'll sleep on that and hope I don't get bitten by a snake or a scorpion. My family would be sad if I never returned home.

Day 4: (noon)

My God, the sun is cooking me alive. Doesn't God know I'm not a goat. No matter, some in the group are already staring like they'd love to eat me.

By the placement of the sun, I think we're traveling north. But no one really knows. The only thing we know for sure is that smugglers lied to us. They said we would only have to walk 25 miles, but we've gone much farther than that. Maybe we should turn around and go back.

Day 5: (3 p.m.)

Some of my companions are dead. We had to leave them behind. There were no shovels to bury them, so it won't be long before the ants and the coyotes have their feast.

Drinking my urine made me sick, but I think it's the only reason I'm still alive. Nevertheless, I think I may die tonight. I'm too weak to walk.

I wonder what the weather is like today in North Carolina? Is it raining? I wonder what my wife and the children are doing? Will I die in my sleep tonight?

On May 23, U.S. Border Patrol agents discovered the bodies of 12 immigrants who died after being abandoned by their smugglers. The next day, two more bodies were found. Sixteen others survived the ordeal, though all were severely dehydrated and some suffered severe kidney damage. Doctors said the bodies of the dead were so dehydrated they look as if they were mummified.

James Garcia is editor and publisher of E-mail him at

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