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Are “Rescue” Towers Helping Migrants Survive Deadly Desert or Entrapping Them?

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Rescue Towers

For those looking to cross the desert and survive the perilous and illegal journey into the U.S., towers have been erected to help them.

The so-called rescue towers placed by the U.S. Border Patrol along the Arizona-Mexico border may often mean the difference between life and death for migrants lost or abandoned in the desert without water or food.

The towers, which were placed in the Tucson area in 2009, were part of an initiative started in Yuma in 2005 when 11 undocumented immigrants died attempting to cross the desert.

Currently, the towers are positioned between Nogales and Ajo, which according to detention statistics compiled by the immigration agency, is where most of the undocumented crossings of the border in Arizona have occurred in recent years.

Border Patrol agents said that meticulous studies and tests were done prior to setting up the towers, for example, determining how long two gallons of water would sustain an immigrant crossing the border, and with that information the sites for the towers were selected.

A month ago, the number of towers was increased to 32, erected in the desert where there is a relatively high traffic flow of undocumented immigrants crossing from Mexico into the U.S.

So far this year, the towers have been activated 142 times, which agents say is 80 percent more times than they were activated in earlier years. Manuel Padilla, the local head of the Border Patrol in the Tucson sector, emphasized that deaths in the desert have fallen by 42 percent this year, adding that this has been due to the campaigns to inform potential immigrants about the dangers of crossing the desert.

The solar-powered towers are 30 feet high and cost $3 million each to construct.

The BORSTAR rescue team made 459 migrant rescues up through August of this year, many of them after one of the towers was activated.

However, given that no specific case exists where activating a tower definitely can be said to have saved the life of a migrant, the Human Rights Coalition says that besides being a way to "save lives" the towers can be considered a trap for immigrants.

"Whoever uses these towers knows that their trip went up to that point, because when the Patrol arrives for them they arrest them and return them (to their countries of origin). That’s all part of the militarization of the border, deporting more of our people", said coalition coordinator Maria Eugenia Carrasco.

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