ALTAR, Mexico – Immigration experts say every person who is going to make the illegal border crossing into the state of Arizona comes through the city of Altar Mexico. The city’s entire economy is built on immigration. Walking along the streets of the cartel controlled city you’ll see backpacks, shoes, masks, and other items necessary to make the journey north. Altar is also where people go to meet their coyotes, making it a very lucrative city. A recent United Nations report estimates human smuggling is a six billion dollar a year industry.
David Hill works with migrants and says cartels now smuggle humans like they smuggle drugs.
“People talk a lot about the cartelization of the border, ” Hill says. “The more the crossings become cut off, the more valuable those ports become. The cartels are big business they weren’t interested in [human smuggling] before but the got interested in it very quickly.”
Hill says drug cartels charge migrants upwards of $5000 to get them illegally into the United States. The steep fees sometimes mean dangerous consequences.
“What people hear about unfortunately are the drugs. We know from our own experience out in the desert that many people are forced to carry [drugs] because they cant afford the outrageous prices these cartels now are charging,” Jim Marx says.
The Cartels involvement in illegal immigration makes an already perilous journey even more dangerous. In the past four years more than two million people have been caught crossing the border illegally. While immigration has slowed, the number of deaths remains the same. In the last decade more than 4,700 people have died crossing into Arizona, but human rights groups say that number is probably a lot higher.
“We have like three thousand deaths documented,” Marx said. “But we say times that number by ten.”
Most of the people that go missing in the desert are never found. One human rights group is working to find those people who become stranded and lost in the desert. No mas Muertes hikes trails north of the border and puts out food and water. They say they aren’t encouraging illegal immigration, they just want the deaths to stop.
“We absolutely know our water has saved lives, we’ve heard that first hand. I want to be careful to see us volunteers as any kind of heroes, because the real heroes are the people who are crossing. We are just giving them a chance to live,” Marx said.
The group also has a camp set up where migrants can eat, shower, rest and receiving medical care. No Mas Muertes says every person who comes to camp is a patient in need of medical care.
“Almost everyone wants a change of clothing because they’ve been walking in the desert three to 15 days sometimes even more,” Laura a volunteer with No Mas Muertes says.
The group says they have one goal to end the suffering in the desert. They say as our borders become more fortified the Drug Cartel becomes stronger and more wealthy.
“The walls are an abomination, I think they are an instrument of torture,” Marx said.
To find out more about No Mas Muertes visit: http://forms.nomoredeaths.org/en/