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Border & Immigration

Border agents destroy water and food left for people crossing border illegally

Border Patrol agents are not supposed to destroy humanitarian aid left along the border. But that’s exactly what happened in the Otay Mountains east of San Diego last month.

After a routine water drop March 18, volunteers with the Borderlands Relief Collective found dozens of destroyed water bottles and cans of food dumped on the ground and accused Border Patrol agents.

The group usually leaves supplies like water, Gatorade, cans of beans, clothes, hand warmers and “anything that might make a difference to a migrant crossing through these dangerous areas,” said David Greenblatt, a volunteer.


Emmet Norris, another volunteer, noticed Border Patrol agents following the group during the March 18 drop.

Borderlands Relief Collective made three separate drops that day. When they returned an hour later to one of the locations, they found their humanitarian supplies dumped on the ground.

The water bottles had been emptied, the cans of food opened, and the crates used to carry the supplies were broken.

“Every single item that we had left was very purposefully and methodically destroyed,” Norris said.

After discovering the trashed supplies, volunteers confronted two Border Patrol agents nearby.


Norris captured the exchange on video.

“It’s abandoned property,” one agent said.

“You could carry it to your car then,” a volunteer responded.

“No, it’s a long hike. Why would I do that?” the agent answered.

Norris, who filmed the exchange, said he’s disappointed with the agents’ response.

“Their words and their actions and their demeanor kind of speaks for themselves,” he said. “All of which kind of speaks to the underlying desire that it’s not about saving people’s lives or helping people. It’s about policing and dictating people’s freedoms.”

In a statement, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) said “leadership within San Diego Sector has emphasized to agents that they are not to remove or destroy water stations, food or other humanitarian aid left along trails within the Otay Mountain Wilderness.”

Volunteers from the Borderline Relief Collective conducting a water drop on March 18, 2023.
Borderlands Relief Collective
Volunteers from the Borderline Relief Collective conducting a water drop on March 18, 2023.

“We do not condone or encourage the destruction or tampering with any water or food caches,” the statement said.

CBP referred the incident to the Office of Professional Responsibility for an internal investigation.

Last fiscal year was the deadliest on record for migrants crossing the border illegally. More than 850 people died, an average of more than 15 deaths a week.

“The situation is worse than it’s ever been,” said Greenblatt.

The Otay Mountains have been particularly dangerous to migrants during the winter storms. The rough terrain is wet and cold. Volunteers have come across migrants showing signs of hypothermia.

Greenblatt said there is a history of Border Patrol agents destroying humanitarian supplies along the southern border.

“It was a shocking event but, unfortunately, not isolated or unprecedented,” he said.

The volunteer referenced examples of Border Patrol agents in Arizona destroying supplies from a group called No More Deaths, and agents in San Diego destroying supplies from Border Angels.

Despite the setback, volunteers said they aren’t letting this episode stop their efforts.

“We’re doubling down and actually exerting 10 times our previous efforts as far as leaving supplies where they are needed in the mountains and deserts along the border,” Greenblatt said.