Tucson Citizen
April 28, 2008

Group fills water barrels for migrants

Sierra Vista Herald

SIERRA VISTA - Raymundo Pineda Montoya placed his hand against the side of a 55-gallon plastic barrel. The top part was hot from basking in the sun. He ran his fingers down until he could feel a cold area toward the bottom.
The barrel seemed to be more than half empty. He estimated it was lacking about 35 gallons. Antonio Mejia Villano unraveled a hose from the bed of an F-150 pickup truck and carried one end of it over. As Montoya placed the nozzle in an opening in the barrel, gravity carried water to it from a giant tank inside the pickup.
On Wednesday, a small group worked to put an estimated 145 gallons into seven barrels near Naco, Son. The water is available for thirsty migrants who are hiking through the desert on their way to try to illegally enter the United States.
The barrels are topped off once a week, except during summer months when they may be filled twice as often. The stations - five located west of town and two to the east - are marked with blue flags so they can be seen from a distance.
The water program is a binational effort of Frontera de Cristo Presbyterian ministry in Douglas and Agua Prieta, Son., Citizens for Border Solutions in Bisbee, and a rehab clinic in Naco, Son., known by the Spanish acronym CRREDA. Other groups in the region sponsor similar programs on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border.
Cecile Lumer of Citizens for Border Solutions said she was impressed that the first barrel was missing so much water.
"This is at a time when hardly anyone is crossing here," she said. U.S. Border Patrol officials recently discontinued deportations of illegal immigrants through the Naco port of entry.
Upon arrival at another barrel, Lumer noticed the water inside was greenish. The tank needed to be replaced with a clean one, but the group did not bring any empty barrels along on this trip.
"You wouldn't want to drink it," she said. She told Montoya to add 10 gallons of clean water to top off the contents in the dirty barrel. "We will leave it. It's better than nothing if you are dying of dehydration."
The third water barrel was full and there was no need to add any water. Lumer referred to the group's records and pointed out this barrel was also full during the past two Wednesdays, meaning it has not been used by migrants for three weeks.
Data on water use is kept on a spreadsheet, she said. If a barrel is not being used much, then it will be moved somewhere else.
Mark Adams, a coordinator of Frontera de Cristo, said the group pays CRREDA in Naco, Son., a $100 honorarium per month, plus $20 for gas for each trip, to drive its pickup truck and fill the seven water barrels near Naco, Son.
There are also more than a dozen water stations near Agua Prieta, he said. Representatives of CRREDA in Agua Prieta fill those barrels, and Frontera de Cristo pays that group the same amount.
Montoya, the director of CRREDA in Naco, Son., said the drug and alcohol rehabilitation center participates in the activity because it needs the funds.
"We don't get a lot of money, but when we get it, we pay the lights, the telephone, the cable," he said, adding the center helps 35 men and five women, including 10 mentally ill men.
Lumer said she intends to install a few more water barrels wherever there is a need for them near Naco, Son.
Al Garza, national executive director of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, said members of the border watch group have "mixed emotions" about the water station effort because it entices people to violate international law.
"It is kind of a confusing issue," he said. "We understand it's a humanitarian gesture, but at the same time we look at it also as a magnet. It is an attractive and a very appealing form of saying, 'Come on in, you're invited, and don't forget, here's the water.' "
Garza said the Minutemen do not oppose the idea of giving out water. He estimated the group has given out more than 20,000 gallons of water to illegal immigrants and has saved more than 320 lives.
"But we haven't enticed anyone with it," he said. "We just happened to be in the right place at the right time and we always make sure to carry plenty of water."
He said the water stations can actually harm illegal immigrants because bandits sometimes hide nearby and then rob, rape or murder unsuspecting individuals who come for a drink.
Lumer said migrants are frequently spotted near the water stations. She takes food packs along to hand out in case she sees them.
The bags contain nonperishable items such as Gatorade, water, a fruit drink, sardines, crackers and applesauce.