Bringing Water to Migrants Crossing an Increasingly Dangerous US-Mexico Border

BU Intl Human Rights
6 min readDec 13, 2023
Water Stations in Southern Texas, Credit to Humane Border

In 2010, the United Nations General Assembly established that access to safe, drinkable, and consistent water supply is a human right. The assembly recognized that access to water is essential for the enjoyment of other human rights. However, like with any valuable resource, water and its supply are often weaponized or controlled against certain populations. The U.N. hopes that recognizing this essential right to water will remind countries of their obligations. All members of the U.N. should ensure that anyone within their jurisdiction has a safe water supply, no matter their background or political status.

The United States-Mexico border is now one of the world's most dangerous land crossing routes. As a result, the U.S. and Mexico have entered into several agreements meant to encourage cooperation on immigration efforts in the region. The negative stigma around immigration has led border state governments to implement aggressive “defensive” measures to reduce immigration flows into the U.S. These federal and state policies have forced many migrants to take less established and often more dangerous routes to reach the U.S. These crossing routes are usually in desolate regions with endless stretches of scorching deserts without any sign of civilization. As in any desert, water is the most valuable resource. By the time they reach the border, migrants have often traveled hundreds or thousands of miles, meaning that the little supplies they brought are running out or already gone. Many also do not realize that they must still travel quite a long distance within the U.S. before making it to safety. With temperatures soaring above 100 degrees Fahrenheit, those traversing the desert can quickly succumb to dehydration and heat sickness.

This has caused countless deaths and disappearances along the border, with a feeling of complicity or indifference on behalf of the government. Because of this, NGOs dedicated to immigrant rights and resources, along with compassionate private residents of the border region, have set up water stations for migrants in these remote crossing routes. Despite law enforcement pushback on these water stations due to policies calling for a hardline defense against what is considered illegal immigration, these groups and individuals remain determined that migrants entering the U.S. through less conventional means are supplied a safe and present water supply.

The Placement of Water Stations

Eddie Canales, the Founder of the Southern Texas Human Rights Center, Credit to Texas Observer

Eddie Canales is a former union organizer who witnessed the mounting migrant deaths and disappearances at the border. In response, he opened the South Texas Human Rights Center in Brooks County, an irregular crossing hotspot. Along with several other measures, like GPS search of migrants and a 911 operating system, the center sets up water stations in the ranchlands where migrants commonly travel. The water stations contain gallon barrels of clean water that Canales and an army of volunteers travel across Brooks County to replenish. There has been a mixed response in the area. While the Brooks County Sheriff’s Office allowed the water stations, it still depends on whether the property owners in the region are willing to have the water stations on their land. Currently, landowners have consented around 50% of the time. The Southern Texas Human Rights Center has established 144 water stations throughout Brooks County.

Lavoyger Durham is one of several volunteers who set up water stations privately on their land. Mr. Durham owns the El Tule Ranch located on the Rio Grande in Texas. After discovering the bodies of over twenty migrants on his property, he realized they were crossing his land to avoid U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (“CBP”). Feeling a sense of pity and compassion for these migrants, Mr. Durham installed a water station on his land. A documentary by Rachel Bardin showcases his story and the subsequent pushback he received from the local government. Texas is one of many places where water stations have been installed. Volunteers from the Borderlands Relief Collective in Southern California also drop resources, such as water bottles and cans of food, for migrants passing through similar desert-like conditions in California. Similar efforts are also made in Arizona.

Government Response

As previously stated, the Brooks County Sheriff’s Office has allowed placing water stations on the land of consenting property owners. However, this is far from the prevailing government attitude towards the assistance of migrants it deems as illegally present in the United States. U.S. political discourse is often defined around immigration. Since the 1800s, American politicians have been concerned about the exaggerated and mostly unfounded negative political, economic, and social consequences of immigration. In recent years, the debate has become fierce, and many government officials and politicians believe that an aggressive stance toward what is deemed illegal immigration is the only feasible solution.

One way this has manifested is the several reports of CBP and its agents vandalizing, destroying, or confiscating water stations and other resources placed for migrants. The Borderlands Relief Collective went on their routine trip to drop off supplies for migrants at their stations. Only three hours later, upon returning to the stations, the Collective found that the Gatorade and water bottles, cans of food, clothes, hand warmers, and other supplies were destroyed. The Collective states that they noticed border patrol agents following their volunteers on their supply drops several times. Upon hearing of this incident, CBP condemned the officers’ actions, adding that it was not a part of their policies and that they would investigate the matter. However, this was not an isolated incident. In Arizona, the NGO No More Deaths documented CBP agents puncturing or destroying water gallon tanks at various stations. In Texas, instead of being destroyed, the water stations along the border have simply disappeared. Groups have suspected CBP involvement in removing the water stations, but other potential perpetrators, like local Texas authorities, could be responsible.

Still Shot of Video Showing Border Agent Dumping Water Jugs Placed in Border Region, Credit to No More Deaths, Published by 12 News Arizona

Water is a human right now internationally recognized by the United Nations. A resource so fundamental to life cannot be deprived under any circumstances, especially because of the status of those who seek water or what a government perceives as the political implications of providing water to these individuals. The U.S.-Mexico border was never a safe place to traverse, but the actions of the governments who control the region are making the trip more dangerous. Individuals and groups observe these measures and respond by providing essential resources like water in areas most traveled by migrants, hoping to reduce the mortality rate of making the trip to the United States. However, these measures have also been met with hostility. Federal and state governments have politicized their immigration policies in a way that increases the likelihood of danger and even death for migrants. The issue of water availability is only a small problem in the massive humanitarian crisis at the Southern Border. While the work of these individuals and organizations is crucial to reducing the number of migrant disappearances and deaths in the region, there must be complete reform by the governments in charge to create an immigration system and border situation that conforms to essential human rights.

Author Bio:

Michael Morales is a second-year law student and student-attorney in the Boston University International Human Rights Clinic, specifically working in the Migrant Disappearances Project. He is the son of Cuban and Colombian immigrants and was born and raised in South Florida. Before law school, he attended Florida State University and majored in international affairs and criminology. At Boston University, along with the IHRC, he is participating in the Jessup International Moot Court and the Public Interest Law Journal. Along with international human rights, he has career interests in criminal defense and immigration.



BU Intl Human Rights

Boston University School of Law's International Human Rights Clinic.