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Water is life: Volunteer teams leave water for migrants crossing deadly CA desert

Water is life: Volunteer teams leave water for migrants crossing deadly CA desert

OCOTILLO, CA — Located about seven miles north of the U.S.-Mexico border and 90 miles east of San Diego, a group of volunteers has been leaving water for migrants traveling through the Imperial Valley after crossing the border.

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The valley is one of the most deadly locations for migrants traveling north through California because of its terrain, remoteness and extreme heat levels, which can reach 120 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer months. Migrants crossing through the area face potentially deadly conditions including heat exhaustion and dehydration.

“Sometimes we don’t need to talk, we need to act,” said Laura Celina Hunter, one of the founders of Water Stations. “The least we can do is put water out so people don’t die. If we can put water out, why not?”


Water Stations, a nonprofit organization, was founded in 2000 with the goal of reducing the amount of migrant deaths within the Imperial Valley desert and mountains. It operates on a shoestring budget, largely from donations and help from a handful of dedicated volunteers.

The organization has installed 150 water stations for migrants and hikers spanning an area of 75 linear miles. Every two weeks between April and October, the organization fills the containers with several gallons of water, making it the largest and most consistent group leaving water out for migrants in California’s Imperial Valley.

“The worst thing is we send them back, but we just want to save them,” said John William Hunter, a founder of the organization. “I just don’t like seeing people die.”

Since 1990, more than 450 unidentified bodies have been discovered in Imperial County according to the Imperial County Coroner’s Office. An estimated 90 percent of these deaths are undocumented immigrants who died crossing the border according to authorities. However, the amount of migrant deaths in the area has fallen over the past few years as a result of border construction and ramped-up immigration enforcement shifting migration patterns eastward into Arizona and Texas.

To view more work by Joel Angel Juárez, please visit

Story by: Joel Angel Juarez