J500 Media and the Environment

Hell on Jalisco Ridge by brennad87

Looking out from the cave in Jalisco Ridge at the impossible journey.

Looking out from the cave in Jalisco Ridge at the impossible journey migrants crossing the border must make.


I was in a place where no human should be, and yet evidence of human suffering surrounded me. In front of me, the Sonoran desert extended as far as I could see—rolling mountains and ravines covered with low brush and waving ocotillos—deceptively beautiful. Yet beside me, under my feet, all around me were remnants of human desperation. There were dirty, crumpled blankets; wrappers and cans; water bottles and flasks. There were discarded jeans, soiled maxi pads. There were open bottles of glue—sniffed to keep pain and hunger away. There were bras dangling from tree branches—on display as rape trophies.

I was standing where, only a night or two before, a large group of undocumented migrants making the crossing from Mexico to the United States had rested. We had stumbled upon the cave cut into the edge of Jalisco Ridge, a place so remote it could be the end of the world. We had stumbled upon a beautiful, terrible hell.

Human debris left by migrants on the trail.

Human debris left by migrants on the trail.

It was a visceral example of how current policy forces people into into opposition with an extreme environment. No one would intentionally destroy a place this beautiful, except if desperate. And anyone in this desert is desperate.  They are desperate for work, desperate for a better life, desperate to rejoin friends and family in the still mystical El Norte. They are so desperate at the hands of economics and politics that they will attempt to cross this no-mans land.

The desert is cruel. In twenty-four hours, temperatures reach both extremes— hypothermia or hyperthermia can kill you. So can a rattlesnake or a scorpion. The desert gives no water—and it is physically impossible for a person to carry enough water to make it across. Since the early nineties, US Border Patrol has focused on closing all routes into the country save access through the desert.  The strategy “prevention through deterrence” was instituted during the Clinton administration. The hope was that the desert would deter migrants. It doesn’t—it kills them. More than 47% of the Mexican undocumented migrants currently in the United States have arrived since the year 2000.  But a migrant is 3 times more likely to die during their crossing than they were in the early nineties.  This year, volunteers have discovered 183 bodies. Many more will remain unfound. Many more will die.

Inferno in Sonora.


There is an old Indian legend that the desert caves are inhabited by witches.  I could feel her presence in that cave. She was angry.  She was angry that someone had entered her sacred space. She was taking bloodthirsty retribution.



4 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Thank you for shedding some light on this issue! I was really unaware of the conditions people face when trying to make their way into the U.S. this way. Do you think it’s wrong for our government to leave the desert gateway open for people to enter at their own risk? What do you think should be done to address the issue?

Comment by christinaw09

It is amazing what people will do when they are desperate. To think that some people (not counting the coyote guides) make this journey several times. I agree that policy towards Mexican immigration needs much improvement. The problem will only continue to grow.

Comment by matthewtb

Tina: There really is no way to close up the border– that is the issue we are dealing with. No matter what barriers we try to assemble, there are huge forces of economics, family ties and politics which push people to make this journey. Because of this, closing the border isn’t really an option. Though we are funneling huge amounts of tax money into border security (the cost of each apprehension of an illegal immigrant leapt from $300 in the early nineties to almost $2000 today), we can’t stop a human wave. Moreover, the technology we waste our money on just doesn’t work. You know the wall they have been building? I will have to show you photographs of it: it is full of holes and not that tall. In fact, Border Patrol calls it a “speed bump” and the people I stayed with in Arizona had seen a migrant scale it in ten seconds. So, honestly, we can’t close the desert gateway.
So what is the answer? I have no idea. That was one of the hardest parts of being there. I could help individuals on a one-to-one level by giving them food and water, but at a system level, I am not sure. I think we should make Visas or guest passes easier to get. We should learn to accept and utilize the labor flow of Mexican immigrants instead of struggling against an unstoppable tide (unstoppable at least for now– if the world stays this unequal.)

Comment by brennad87

Matt: I agree– the issue is getting worse. Forty-seven percent of illegal immigrants from Mexico in this country have crossed in the past eight years.
As for those who cross multiple times, these days, if you are caught crossing for a second time, you are convicted of a felony. Thus, before you are deported, you are thrown in an American jail to do some time. How twisted is that? We had a joke out at camp. We said, Look, if someone has crossed the desert two or three times, we should make them a US citizen automatically. AND give them a postage stamp. They are the kind of hardy Americans we want.

Comment by brennad87

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