Hector Zacara did not understand why there was no market for the beans he grew, beans that his family had grown in Tapachula, Mexico for decades. He heard about U.S. grown beans being cheaper than the ones he grew. He heard about NAFTA but did not know what it meant. What he did know, in his mind and in his stomach ,was that his wife and five children were starving. He had no income to grow food so that his family could eat.
A neighbor told him about available work in the California’s central valley. The neighbor told Hector about the cost of a “coyote” that would smuggle Hector and others across the border in Arizona. Hector did not have the 20,000 pesos for the coyote but knew some other local men who were going north without a coyote. They had made the trip before and said Hector could accompany them.
Two weeks later, in early June, Hector and ten other local men climbed on top of a freight train to begin their journey north. After 11 days of trains, walking, begging rides and a bus from Hermosillo to Altar, Sonora, Hector paid $10.00 for the van ride to the border at Sasabe, Sonora. Fifteen miles into the van ride, the van was stopped at a cartel roadblock and all the riders were told to pay $70.00 each to enter Sasabe. Hector was left with $120.00 for the ten day journey from Sasabe to Fresno.
On June 17, under cover of darkness, Hector and the ten others headed west out of Sasabe to cross into Arizona where the fence ended. It was 95 degrees at 10pm. Hector carried two days of food and two one gallon jugs of water. To survive in the desert, Hector and the others each need three gallons of water per day. It’s a five day walk in the desert to the pickup spot near Robles Junction, Arizona.
After walking all night, Hector and the others travelled 8 miles on mountainous migrant trails west of Sasabe. They planned to stay on the mountain trails to avoid the Border Patrol, National Guard, electronic sensors and bandits. At daylight, the group decided to keep walking until noon, then rest before walking through the next night. At ten am the temperature reached 110 degrees and Hector drank one of his gallons of water. His old leather work boots were blistering his feet. One of the other men told the group “don’t worry, people put water out on the trails for migrants.” He was partially right but the group did not know that the humanitarian water drops were along desert trails in the valleys and washes, not in the mountains.
At noon, the temperature was 117 degrees and the group found some shade in a wash. They felt concealed from the Border Patrol helicopters and the drones. Hector cried quietly when he thought of his family but knew he had to make the journey so they could survive.
At 8 pm when the men started north after their rest, Hector and five other men were out of water. Four men had blisters covering both heels and the bottoms of their feet. One man started talking of turning back.
At 7 am the following morning, the line of ten men was stretched out to more than two hundred yards. They were all out of water. They decided to stop and rest. Two men said they would climb higher to see if they could see a place to get water. An hour later, the men returned and said that they had spotted a water tank for cattle about a mile east. The group decided to walk to the tank immediately.
There was no trail to the tank out of the mountains but one of the men was sure he could find it. After walking for two hours in 120 degree life draining heat, the group realized they were lost. Hector felt weak and his vision was deteriorating. The group had begun to drink their own urine. Urine can be drunk twice before it becomes toxic. Three other men said they could not continue. One of the group members was vomiting blood. All the men were in early stages of heat stroke.
At that moment, a Border Patrol helicopter swooped over a ridge and down on the group. Hector and three others ran into the desert. The helicopter landed and apprehended the remaining six. A BORSTAR team arrived to search for Hector and the three others. The three were found huddled in a nearby wash. Hector was not with them.
Two days later, Hector’s body was found by a rancher 200 yards from the cattle tank. Animals had already been feeding on his body. Clutched in his left hand was a photo of his wife and children.
Hector was one of more than four hundred deaths in the Arizona Sonoran desert in 2010, a man willing to give his life for his family, a man that the US government and Homeland Security call “collateral damage.”
R. Hugh Margesson manages a humanitarian ministry in Sasabe, Sonora, a primary staging and crossing area for migrants crossing the border into the southern Arizona desert and mountains. Sasabe Avanzando was created to offer other opportunities for those who do not want to participate in the smuggling community and supports schools, physician and clinic, impoverished families and micro businesses.
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