PoliticsImmigration48 Hours on the Border


Nonprofit provides hope for migrants crossing through desert

Border Kindness leaves water and nonperishable food items for asylum-seekers, migrants and refugees.
Posted at 1:38 PM, Mar 13, 2024

Nearly 2 miles away from the border between Mexico and California, you'll find water bottles and nonperishable food items in the cracks between the rocks that make up the mountain trail leading into the United States.

The resources are left behind by a group called Border Kindness — volunteers hoping to give migrants making the dangerous journey a real shot at survival.

Border Kindness is a nonprofit that provides services for asylum-seekers, migrants and refugees.

It's a mission the volunteers take on weekly.

“In our backpacks, we have a first aid kit, plenty of drinking water for ourselves and emergency supplies in case we encounter anybody out there. Then we carry the supplies: food, water, protective clothing, whatever we need," said James Cordero, a water drop coordinator for the nonprofit.

Each drop starts with a safety briefing. Then volunteers hike up the unpaved trail that thousands have taken for a shot at the American dream.

From October to January, there have been more than 7,100 encounters with migrants in the s

It's not uncommon for volunteers to find empty crates that were once full of their supplies, a sign that their drops could be helping.

"Here’s one of the crates that was right around the corner. Due to the heavy rains and the flooding that came through here in the last few months, it’s been swept down," said Cordero.

They also pick up any proof left behind by the people crossing through the area.

"We found a bandanna, a water bottle from Mexico, frijoles in a package," said Cordero.

Volunteers organize crates and date the packaged food that is paid for with donations.

"A regular water drop will probably cost somewhere around $250 to $300. Some drops that we do in the winter time can cost close to $1,000," said Cordero.

All this work is to stop preventable deaths at the border.

The most recent government data from 2021 shows more than 560 migrants died along the southwest border. Most of the deaths were weather-related, and 219 were from heat-related illnesses.

"The supplies can mean a difference between life and death. We leave the supplies out for people to use," said Cordero.

Arizona cab driver shuttles migrants to next leg of their journey
Cab driver Jesus Poblete, right, shakes the hand of a migrant he shuttled to an airport.

Arizona cab driver shuttles migrants to next leg of their journey

Jesus Poblete has been driving people in Tucson for the past decade, and recently, migrants have been his main customers.


Cordero knows the dangers of the California desert heat very well after helping volunteers who fell victim to 100-plus-degree weather a few years ago.

"Volunteers were falling out, having heat exhaustion, starting to get into heat stroke. So, my friend and I helped out in first aid to make sure that people weren’t really hurt and at the end of the day we were reflecting on the long drive home … We were only out for an hour and a half. There’s people who are out for days on end," said Cordero.

Some volunteers leave more than food. They leave behind traces of hope to also fuel the migrant's journey.

“Tu vida vale — your life matters" was written on a water bottle.

The work is controversial.

Some have questioned the legality of what the volunteers do.

"Prove to me that it’s not. There are case laws. There’s been other humanitarian aid organizations in different states that have been accused of doing illegal activity when it’s just a Good Samaritan," said Cordero.

Scripps News San Diego reported when advocates, including Cordero, said they had a hard time crossing the border.

“If the government poses something on you, are you trouble, or do they think you are trouble? I’ve been on government watchlists on the U.S. and Mexico sides. I do have extreme difficulty getting into Mexico, and it’s been the same way since the end of 2018," he said.

Despite it all, his work continues.

Cordero said he does it to connect with his grandfather.

“I’m mixed-race and my grandfather is from Mexico. He crossed before he was able to gain U.S. citizenship by joining the army and fighting in the war," he said.

Border Kindness says that their efforts will not stop. They do these drops dozens of times per year.

This story was originally reported by Ciara Encinas at Scripps News San Diego.