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The Trail of Latino Migration: A Desert Crossing

Gerry Hadden, NPR News /
A watchtower on the U.S. side of the border, in Arizona, across from Sonora, Mexico. At night, agents use infrared devices to detect the movement of migrants in the desert.
Gerry Hadden, NPR News /
A Border Patrol agent holds up a poster featuring the final words of a migrant who died after his group was abandoned: "Our guide tricked us, and things turned negative. There are 14 of us.... We can't hold out any longer. Adios."

A record 135 undocumented Latino migrants have died in the heat of the Sonora-Arizona desert while trying to enter the United States this year. In the final part of a Morning Edition series, NPR's Gerry Hadden reports on the last leg of migrant journeys from Central America and Mexico.


The deaths mount as people traverse the dry, broiling terrain to avoid increased U.S. security at traditional crossing points.

One of those preparing to make the journey is a farmer shopping for pants in a tiny clothing store in Altar, Mexico. His waist is 32 but he buys a size 36. That's so the pants will slide easily over his dirty jeans. He hopes doubling up will protect him from scorpion stings and the cold at night.

"It's my first time crossing," says the farmer, who does not give his name. "Let's see how our luck holds up. It's a desperate situation. There's no work, nothing. The people are suffering. We have no money."

Migrants like the farmer buy the services of guides, known as coyotes, who help smuggle them across the border. Others cross alone, counting on their luck and wits to carry them across the desert of southern Arizona. But many get lost, and Border Patrol rescue agent Marios Masunga's job is to find them.

With the ground temperature hitting 140, "we find the bodies... blistered all up," Masunga says. "Even if they're dead or not, they're just lying there on hot rocks for so long."


Migrants know they're taking enormous risks to reach the United States, but the lure of a better life, free of poverty, drives them from home. So far this year the U.S. has deported 750,000 undocumented Latinos. Measuring just how many make it in is impossible, but officials acknowledge they catch just a fraction of those who try.

In the Mexican desert border town of Sasabe, migrants pause to pray at a small candle-lit shrine to the Virgin of Guadalupe, Mexico's beloved protector. One man says they're asking for help to make it into the United States. "We're only crossing because we have to," he says.

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