Choices converge into rescue of aliens in desert

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Gary Meinert
Thursday, June 25, 2009

Choices we make, however insignificant they seem at the time, often dramatically affect the lives of others and the choices they’ve made.

Why did my friend, Don, and I drive a jeep into the desert on the spur of the moment in contrast to our usual deliberate planning? Why did we go into an area where we’d never ventured before? Why did we choose the trail’s left fork sometimes and the right on others? What compelled us to drive a sandy riverbed rather than continue on the rugged and hilly trail?

Five days earlier, unknown to us, two young Mexican men made their own choices. They joined 16 others, assembled by a coyote (guide), and entered our country illegally in one of the most dangerous and desolate areas of the U.S./Mexican border. This countryside, several hundred square miles, is hilly, uninhabited and unforgiving. Temperatures top 90 degrees.

Suddenly, there they were; the panicked faces of two desperate men barely able to walk. Abandoned by their coyote after three days because they couldn’t keep up, they were left to live or die. One spoke broken English and told us they hadn’t eaten in five days. Suffering severe dehydration, they’d drank out of a stagnant cattle watering hole two days earlier.

Because of federal law, jeep space and potential danger to ourselves, we couldn’t drive them out. We shared our water and power bars with them and planned how to summon rescuers. We decided to break a longstanding rule; never split up in the desert. I stayed with them, while Don drove to the top of the tallest hill, obtained GPS coordinates and hoped his cell phone would work.

One of us had to stay behind. If the men thought we had abandoned them, they might try to leave the area and die. Because of their condition and knowing this area was notorious for bajadores (desert bandits) we knew time was crucial.

Fortunately, Don reached the Border Patrol’s Tucson Station. Agents drove the two aliens out of the desert after 1˝ hours. They believed the two would have died before dawn had we not found them.

We learned a third man was hiding in fear in the desert. He had no chance to survive overnight, but we reluctantly left.

Sadly, this drama plays out in Arizona’s desert daily. In seven years, 1,138 bodies have been found in this region. The actual toll is much higher because most bodies aren’t found. A secure border and guest worker program would be significant parts of the solution.

After contemplating this chance encounter, I wonder: Why were the choices we made that day so inexplicably connected to the choices of the Mexicans? What forces were at work to connect the wanderings of men from two countries who neither sought nor expected to meet?

In future trips into our mysterious and dangerous desert, I’ll always wonder: What if we’d made one seemingly insignificantly different choice? I suspect that, somewhere, Fabian and Jose wonder the same thing.

Gary Meinert is a 1958 graduate of Janesville High School. He owned the R.E. Meinert Co., a wholesale plumbing, heating and industrial supply business in Janesville. He now spends summers in Wisconsin’s Vilas County and the rest of the year in Green Valley, Ariz. He and his associate have been traveling southern Arizona’s back roads and desert trails to document and photograph our border crisis. As a community service, they make educational presentations to the general public and have also briefed U.S. congressmen from two states on the border issue. Meinert can be reached by e-mail at borderissues@yahoo.com.

Last updated: 10:36 am Thursday, December 13, 2012

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