The smuggler had stood him up at the agreed pick-up spot in Ocotillo, a lonely desert crossroads on the southwestern edge of Imperial County, which was suffering record heat from climate change. The afternoon hit 111 degrees. He was about 10 miles north of the border. The landscape was sand and dried-out shrubs.
It was July 7, 2020, months into the pandemic, and it was Cervantes’ third attempt to reunite with his wife and four children in Delaware, where he had lived for two decades. He’d gone to Mexico in November 2019 to see his elderly father before he passed away. The plan had been to stay a short while, then return through the desert, but the pandemic had delayed him. He’d tried twice already, only to be caught and sent back by the border guards. He had no immigration papers and no legal path into the country.
In the border guards’ eyes, Cervantes, 48, was an invader. In his eyes, he was a family man trying to go home. He had started a mobile food business with his wife, selling tamales, tacos, and other treats. Their U.S.-born kids were on track to go to college. He was a proud Mexicano, with an “Hecho en México” tattoo on his biceps and a passion for norteño love ballads, which he posted to Facebook and texted to his wife. But he also appeared in family photos wearing shirts printed with the American flag. Shortly before going to Mexico, he’d taken the family to the Statue of Liberty.
That day in the desert, he planned to forge on toward El Centro, about 27 miles east of where the smuggler stood him up. In that city, he might blend in, and find a hotel. He thought he could make it. He was strong, with years of working construction and other grueling jobs. Earlier, he had found three gallons of water left for migrants by activists. He drank some, but not all, wanting to leave some for others.
He kept walking in the heat and eventually came across a small bridge under a mostly abandoned road. He took shelter underneath. It was still hot, but there was shade. He called his wife on his Mexican cellphone and told her he was struggling to walk, falling every few steps, but would rest and keep going. He was two miles from Interstate 8, where he might seek help from drivers, but he didn’t want to risk detection.
“I’ll fight to the death to make it back to you,” his wife, Reyna, recalled him saying. I met her this month in that fateful spot in the desert, where she shared with me the tragedy that would alter the fate of their family forever.
The use of towering steel barriers, military surveillance gear, and armed border guards to push people into dangerous parts of the border began during the Clinton administration, decades before Donald Trump made banning immigration his signature issue. More than 9,000 migrants have died crossing the border since the late 1990s.
The border has long been a Squid Game for the global south. The reward for the players who survive this hide-and-seek with border guards is the “American dream”; everybody else is eliminated by death or deportation.
Although most crossing deaths occur along southern Texas, where Gov. Greg Abbott has launched a campaign of open cruelty that includes pushing pregnant women and children back into the Rio Grande, the desert of California’s southeastern border is increasingly dangerous because of climate-change-induced extreme heat.
Source.- Los Angeles Times