One Night on a Deadly Border Crossing

The messages that come across the radio at the U.S. Border Patrol base in Douglas, Ariz. can be grim: "Bodies on top of the fence," "Bodies just to the east... at the rose plants."

For years Douglas has been one of the busiest illegal crossing places along the U.S.-Mexico border. But new technology is making it harder for would-be migrants to evade the Border Patrol near towns like Douglas. Instead, more and more migrants are attempting the crossing far out in the Sonoran Desert. There are fewer border agents there, but many more dangers.

One route, 200 miles west of Douglas, is especially dangerous. Known to Mexicans as El Camino del Diablo, or the Devil's Highway, the route is the deadliest migrant trail in North America. More than 1,400 migrants have died along the Devil's Highway in the last five years, from thirst, heat exhaustion and exposure to the elements. This summer so far, more than 80 have died.

One night last summer, ABCNEWS followed a group of migrants as they attempted the dangerous crossing.

Old Wagon Trails Find New Use

Located between Tucson and Yuma in southwestern Arizona, the Devil's Highway is a loose network of old cattle and wagon trails leading from the Mexican border town of Sonoyta through the desert to Ajo, a town 30 miles inside Arizona, and then heading West.

The area is virtually empty of people, but populated by scorpions, rattlesnakes, and cacti that tear at clothes and flesh. The temperature can reach 130 degrees Fahrenheit in the shade.

Sonoyta is a typical border town, filled with thieves, drug smugglers and desperate migrants dreaming of a better life in the United States.

One of the hopeful migrants last summer was Jose Mendoza, a 56-year-old who found that the $5 he was earning making belts was not enough to provide for his wife and six children. In the United States, he could earn 20 times as much.

Mendoza had heard of the dangers of the Devil's Highway, but he was willing to pay $600 to a smuggler who knew the way. "This is my one last shot at providing for my family," he said in Spanish while washing at a broken water line along Sonoyta's river bed.

The smuggler Mendoza hired was known as El Gato, the Cat. At 5:30 one afternoon last August, Mendoza and four others met the Cat in a dry creek bed on the border half a mile east of Sonoyta. They carried plastic bags of food, and a gallon or two of water each. In the desert heat, humans need at least a gallon of water for every six miles they travel. The five men did not have close to that amount.

Walking at Night

Although the busier parts of the U.S.-Mexican border are protected with concrete walls and tower-mounted cameras, out in the desert there is almost nothing. The five men and their guide crossed into the United States through a run-down cattle fence.

As they walked through the desert, the men watched out for Border Patrol vehicles. Twenty minutes into the trip, they noticed a white vehicle in the distance. As the men waited, the Cat climbed a small hill to check it out. It turned out to be a civilian car.

The group continued walking through the desert. Night fell, but the temperature was still close to 100 degrees, the air hot enough to scorch throats.

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