People | Gente
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People | Gente

★ Joel


Joel Smith is the operations manager for Humane Borders • Fronteras Compasivas, a non-profit humanitarian organization based in Tucson.

The Sonoran desert is a key crossing point for immigrants coming over from Mexico and other Central American countries. It is one of the hottest places in North America. Many who attempt the journey become dehydrated and die along the way.

Joel is responsible for filling strategically-positioned barrels with fresh, cool water in the desert. He goes out every two weeks all year long, even in the middle of the summer, when the temperature can get as high as 112 degrees.


Joel shows me a plastic bag filled with food that he carries with him in the event that he runs into traveling immigrants at the water sites. He is not allowed to leave food behind, but can hand it directly to them. Joel says he never knows when that’s going to happen, so he carries these bags with him at all times.

The bags contain non-perishable items that will last during a long walk in the desert. They are filled with things like peanut butter, granola bars and canned goods that are easy-open.

He tells me that he even if he could, he wouldn’t want to leave food behind because he worries that anti-immigrant groups will sabotage them to retaliate against the immigrants crossing.

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