The border: A hot topic
Updated: May 18
Last year dozens believed to be crossing into the US from Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras were found dead inside a tractor-trailer in the sweltering Texas. The state was enduring a record-breaking heat wave, with temperatures above 100 degrees that day.
Sixteen people, including four children, were found alive and taken to hospitals. The survivors were feverish and dehydrated suffering from heat stroke and heat exhaustion.
Those who make the trek to the United States face many hazards and not all of them are related to cartels or greedy coyotes. As we transition from May into June once again, the journey of these immigrants will become more perilous and so will the job of the agent assigned to stop them or find them.
Last year, unrelenting heat waves struck many parts of the United States with excessive heat warnings issued across our nation, but there are no weather radios in the desert and certainly no rest areas with running water or air conditioning along the way.
At least 650 people died in 2021 while trying to reach the United States or shortly after arriving. A majority of those deaths was due to exposure to severe weather. Normally when agents find the bodies of the dead, they are located in higher elevation areas where the immigrants have sought cooler temperatures, shade and even water run-off but shade and cooler temperatures are not always guaranteed at these heights and the rugged terrain will wear out any traveler quicker than the lower elevation paths.
Extreme heat can overheat and dehydrate the human body, especially when people spend long periods of time outside. Exposure to extreme heat is one of the top weather-related causes of death nationwide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
So how long are these people out in the elements? People crossing illegally at Texas, Arizona and new Mexico can often wind up in a journey for six to eight days across desert conditions.
The extreme heat and deaths we saw last year should not go unremembered. It is right now that officials and administrations should begin preparing for the encounters they will have with heat exhausted immigrants suddenly thrust in their care and adopting climate-informed policies.
The new rules at the border may help some of the tragedies from occurring, but that remains to be seen. With a Trump-like order of “no entry” in place, immigrants are forced to attempt more dangerous and longer pathways into the United States thus becoming more exposed but the lax conditions at the border right now may encourage immigrants to use the more populated areas of entry and even legal ports.
As I have said before in my blogs, there is no win-win at the border. While it is imperative that we close our borders and begin to take Homeland Security seriously, there is still a need for true asylum seekers to have a place to at least present their case. While we cannot continue to throw manpower and money at the border without a better plan, we cannot afford to become a nation with no empathy either.
What was the situation for the mother, two year old boy and 10 year old girl found in the Yuma desert last year? The two year old, barely alive, was found huddled against the bodies of his dead mother and sister on a 119 degree day. Who sent them? Who put them on that path? What was their story?
While I have no solution, I do have opinions on how we should not handle things. As I said, now is the time for the public, the administrations and those working and living along America’s border to begin to prepare for what could be another hot summer with caravans of immigrants following their dreams and poor messaging.
The Southwestern United States is one of the fastest warming regions of the United States as our climate shifts. Heat waves have grown longer, more intense, and more frequent in the region and nationwide. The US counties along the Mexico border could see an annual average of 60 days with a heat index above 100 degrees Fahrenheit in just a few decades, up from 28 days from 1971 to 2000, according to data released by the Union of Concerned Scientists.
The Climate Prediction Center has released the weather outlook for summer 2023. Their prediction is that we see warmer than average temperatures, along with about average precipitation. There's also a good chance that an El Niño develops by the fall. El Niños often bring cooler and wetter weather during the cold months for the southern U.S. which would cause the same issues and dangers with hypothermic reactions of immigrants traveling wet and cold.
To further complicate matters, the hottest periods are expected in late June, early to mid-July, and early August, long before any real effective system is in play along the border. Latest reports note that we should be vigilant in watching for tropical storms in late July and mid-August as the Gulf of Mexico's warm waters can bring hurricanes with higher-than-normal temperatures.
My dear friend author Sheri Fink once said “The threat from extreme weather events highlights the importance of investing in preparedness”.