One Night on a Deadly Border Crossing

ByABC News
August 8, 2002, 5:27 PM

ORGAN PIPE NATIONAL MONUMENT, Ariz., Aug. 8 -- 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.