Just after sunset I went on drug-smuggling patrol with some U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents in their Black Hawk helicopter. As we were flying over a part of southern Arizona they called the Ho Chi Minh Trail, we saw a man standing among the cactuses frantically waving his shirt. We landed and found out that he had illegally crossed the border from Mexico with his extended family and a coyote, or guide, when his cousin died from dehydration. It was more than 105°F (40°C) that day and he was carrying two gallon milk containers filled with his group's urine as an emergency drinking supply. He got into our helicopter and led us to the place where Alma, his cousin, had expired only an hour earlier.
I learned that she'd left her two-year-old son behind in Mexico because she wanted to find work and a better way of life. Seeing that on a personal level was quite wrenching. As the U.S. government puts more agents on the southern border and uses more high-tech surveillance gear, undocumented immigrants are taking greater risks by trying to cross increasingly remote areas of the desert. These people want to have a part of the American dream and they're dying because of it. [See Steinmetz's image of this tragedy in Zoom-In.)