Finding Closure at the Border
By Taliesin Gilkes-Bower // @realms.manifest
It’s easy to die in the Sonoran Desert. Especially if you are alone, dehydrated, and being hunted by the United States Border Patrol. For migrants attempting to enter America through this vast desert, the journey can take up to 10 days and cost nearly five-thousand dollars for a guide.
Eli Ortiz’s brother went missing here nearly a decade ago. When Border Patrol failed to find him, Ortiz went looking on his own. Thousands have died attempting to cross the U.S./Mexico Border, and those who become separated from their guide rarely survive in the Sonoran, where summer temperatures can reach 120° F. When Ortiz finally located the remains of his brother, he began a lifelong mission to help other families locate their lost and deceased loved ones. His nonprofit organization Aguilas del Desierto now runs as a DIY search and rescue service that uses a team of volunteers to scour the most remote corners of the border to help bring peace to families hoping to bury or know the fate of their relatives.
About once a month, Ortiz and his crew, mostly working-class Mexicans who live in San Diego, finish work on Friday and drive seven or eight hours east into the desert. They wake up at sunrise and search the brutal and deadly landscape until sunset, utilizing classic wilderness search and rescue tactics and staying in touch on radios.
When I joined the Aguilas on a recent mission to Cabeza Prieta National Wilderness Area, I was deeply moved by their dedication to this agonizing work. It was humbling to walk alongside these men and women serving their community with such selflessness.
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