Humanitarian Group Finding Balance Helping Migrants While Working with Law Enforcement

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FALFURRIAS – A life-saving mission continues in remotes areas of South Texas, but it can come with risks.

A humanitarian aide worker in Arizona is facing charges for helping migrants.

One Rio Grande Valley organization continues helping while observing boundaries and relying on forged partnerships with law enforcement.

Inside the small office of the South Texas Human Rights Center, maps are everywhere.

"Brooks County represents the corridor of death, here," said Eddie Canales, the center director.

They keep track of how migrants traverse the county.

Those with relatives who got lost call their hotline; the organization received about 133 calls last month.

During the summer, they expect many more. Some calls result in good news; many will end in death.

A few years ago, the center decided to try to change that. They set up several water stations throughout Brooks County.

The stations are blue bins filled with gallons of water. Information on how to call for help is written inside.

Migrants are encouraged to turn off and on their phone before calling 9-1-1. Otherwise, their location could be thrown off by several miles. GPS coordinates are sometimes also written on those lids.

They keep track of the location of the over 160 water stations throughout the county. They also track where they're located in relation to the deaths they record in the region.

Help comes in the form of the Missing Migrant Program. It's Canales's idea – it relies on a partnership with Border Patrol.

"We got one mission is try to save lives, recover lives, identify. So, our relationship has been positive, constructive," says Canales of their partnership.

Calls from relatives seeking their lost ones will be received by the center.

Staff checks with Border Patrol to see the missing migrant is in their custody. If they're not, a rescue is conducted.

Agents help with those.

Canales also works with the Brooks County Sheriff's Department. He says these ties with local and federal agencies are encouraged.

"Border Patrol has come up to me, you keep up doing what you're doing – here locally," He specified.

He knows in other parts of the nation, there's tension between humanitarian groups and federal agencies.

An Arizona professor who helped shelter and feed migrants is under indictment for aiding and abetting.

Canales is concerned about the negative impact to missions where saving lives depends on forged relationships with law enforcement. That's why they observe boundaries.

Canales says, "We don't pick up anybody. We don't carry anybody anywhere. We do what we can out here in the field. We provide as much as we can in terms of first aid."

For now, the team will continue monitoring and filling up water stations hoping they help save at least one more life.

For those interested in helping migrants, there are laws that govern what's the right and wrong way to do it.

Immigration attorney Jodi Goodwin explained helping an immigrant for financial gain is illegal.

She also adds the law states you cannot help an immigrant avoid detection or inspection by hiding or transporting them.

If someone is in need of emergency assistance, Goodwin says you can offer help.

"As an individual, you have no duty to ask every person who needs a ride or every person who is sick to show you their papers first. Not everyone is going to be completely open about what their immigration status is nor do you have to ask," she said.

Goodwin advises never to wire money to someone who's coming into the country. That can be construed as aiding and abetting – a federal crime.


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