Picking her way into the desert brush, Raquel Martinez gathered scores of plastic water bottles tossed in an Arizona desert valley near the Mexico border, often by migrants making a risky trek into the United States across increasingly remote terrain.

‘We need more bags . . .  there’s so much trash,’ said Ms Martinez, one of scores of volunteers helping clean up the dry bed of the Santa Cruz River about 10 miles north of the Mexico border on Saturday.

Trash tossed by thousands of illegal immigrants as they chase the American Dream has been a persistent problem for years in the rugged Arizona borderlands that lie on a main migration and smuggling route from Mexico.

The problem was compounded as immigrants and drug traffickers responded to ramped up vigilance on the U.S.-Mexico border by taking increasingly remote routes, leaving more waste behind in out-of-the way and hard-to-clean areas, authorities say.

‘Migants used to follow the washes or follow the roads or utility poles,’ said Robin Hoover, founder of the Tucson-based non-profit Humane Borders.

‘Now they’re having to move farther and farther from the middle of the valleys,’ he added.

‘They end up making more camp sites and cutting more trails when they do that, and, unfortunately . . . leave more trash.’

Those making the punishing march carry food, water and often a change of clothes on the trek through remote desert areas that can take several days.

Most is tossed before they pile into vehicles at pickup sites like the one getting attention on the outskirts of Rio Rico, from where they head on to the US interior.

‘One of the problems that we are facing is that these sites are becoming more and more remote as law enforcement steps up its efforts,’ Henry Darwin, director of the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality, said of the flourishing borderland garbage dumps.

‘There’s probably sites out there that we haven’t encountered yet or don’t know about because there’s a lot of people out in those areas,’ added Mr Darwin, who gave testimony on the issue to state lawmakers earlier this month.

There are no numbers to show exactly how many would-be migrants or smugglers take the illegal and surreptitious trek across the border into Arizona from Mexico each year.

But in an indication of the scale of the migration, federal border police made nearly 130,000 arrests last year in Arizona, where hundreds of Border Patrol agents, miles of fencing and several unmanned surveillance drones have been added in recent years to tighten security along the porous border.

With limited funding for clean up, Arizona environmental authorities draw on volunteers to help in drives like the one near Rio Rico, where an estimated 140 volunteers including residents, community and youth groups took part on Saturday.

Clean up efforts since 2008 by the department of environmental quality have included pulling 42 tons of trash from 160 acres of Cocopah tribal lands in far western Arizona, and clean ups at least seven sites on ranches and public land in areas south of Tucson.

Signs of illegal immigrants and even drug traffickers making the circuitous foot journey abound in the mesquite-studded riverbed near Rio Rico, a vigorous day’s walk north of the border.

‘I’ve found about a trillion water bottles,’ said David Burkett, a lawyer from Scottsdale, who worked up a sweat as he filled his fourth 50-pound trash bag. Nearby are tossed backpacks, food containers, a blanket and a pair of shoes.

He points out that alongside the apparent migrant trash is a large amount of other waste including a couch, kitchen countertops and yard debris, likely tossed by residents and contractors. Still, it is a shock to those living locally.

‘We don’t realize how bad it is until we come down and see it,’ said Candy Lamar, a volunteer who lives in sprawling, low density Rio Rico, as she works to pick up trash.

The area getting attention on Saturday lies a few miles from a remote spot where the bodies of three suspected drug traffickers were found shot to death ‘execution style’ last November.

The area is not far from another out-of-the-way spot where Border Patrol agent Brian Terry was shot dead by suspected border bandits in December 2010. Volunteers working on Saturday were aware of the potential hazards.

As she stuffed a blue garbage sack with trash, retiree Sharon Christensen eyed discarded burlap sacking, blankets and cord—the remains of a makeshift backpack of the type often used by drug traffickers walking marijuana loads up from Mexico.

‘It would make me hesitant to come out here on my own, knowing that this kind of activity is going on . . . It is a concern, and we need to be mindful,’ said Christensen, a retiree and hiking enthusiast.

Clean-up organizers liaise with Border Patrol and local police on security, in addition to warning volunteers of potential danger from snakes, scorpions or even bees that can swarm in discarded vehicle tires, and of potential hazards including medical waste and human excrement.

Equipped with gloves, volunteers such as Mr Burkett, the Scottsdale lawyer, were glad to take part on Saturday.

‘As an avid outdoors person in Arizona, I spend a lot of time using the desert,’ he said.

‘It’s important to me personally to take the time to give back.’


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  • Anonymous

    This is one of those issues that can cause a liberal’s central CPU microchip to fry like an egg on hot tarmac. On the one hand, they believe all the canards about illegal immigration. But then you point out that the illegals are wreaking environmental havoc, and then their Al Gore synapses begin to fry: “Whitey is bad, illegal immigration is good, but environmental degredation is bad, and the illegals are hurting the environment, while the vast majority of white Americans are opposed to illegal immigration. RESPONSE DOES NOT COMPUTE.”

    Thankfully, however, consistency is not their strong suit, and the internal conflict only lasts a moment. Sort of like when you point out the Che poster in their dorm-room and tell them that Che intended to exterminate homosexuals.

  • Anonymous

    Back when dumb a*& George W. Bush was the President and doing nothing about the illegal alien invasion, there was this same problem with the invading illegals trashing the American side of the border. I had this idea that patriots would collect tons of this trash and then dump in in Crawford TX – the home of George Dubya Bush, so his neighbors could smell the treason of their/our traitorous idiot leader.

  • If you think hispanic illegal invaders are rough on the desert, you should see what
    they do to neighborhoods once they infest in sufficient numbers. Their trash
    does not stop at the Rio Grande!

  • Bon, From the Land of Babble

    Hypocritical environmentalists rise up in arms at any mention of a border fence, claiming such a fence will “harm the environment” and interfere with animal migration patterns.

    But, they are little concerned with the TONS of trash left behind by illegal immigrants that are damaging the fragile desert landscape.  The Bureau of Land Management estimates eight pounds of trash are dropped per person per day.  At one crossing, Diablito, on state land, there is so much litter that you can walk 1/2 mile on a sea of trash without your feet touching the ground. Included in the trash are piles of human feces, tampons, medicines, syringes and used condoms.

    Non-native plants, especially buffelgrass have been brought in, the seeds carried on  illegal immigrants clothing and shoes.  Buffelgrass’s impact has been huge, because it is highly combustible and has introduced fire into the area, including massive blazes and runaways fires, something previously unseen in this area.

    The water supply and wells in the border area have been contaminated with fecal matter, the result of so many illegal immigrants defecating near water sources.  

    The Sierra Club?  Paid off to shut up about illegal immigrants and keep quiet about the immense and irreversible  damage being done to fragile desert areas along the border.


    Image #1:  Border Patrol Agent holding a bullet-proof vest found among the garbage on Arizona’s border, more sophisticated than what our troops in Iraq use.

    Image #2:  Rape Tree. Coyotes sometimes rape their female charges in remote areas.

  • Anonymous

    Near me is an area were houses cost $500,000 – $700,000 (not a great area in the Bay Area, but not the ghetto).  The Mexican houses (even when occupied by a single family) are in disrepair with overgrown lawns.  The White houses are generally neat and attractive.  This is not income based it is ethnic group based.

  • The 21st Century Immigrant’s “American” Dream: Getting on the White money dole, being paid under the table, and living within walking distance of a Western Union.

  • Anonymous

    This article almost completely neglected the worst piece of trash they brought:


    Take one look at the drug cartels. Do you really want a race like that in your homeland? (I won’t name them specifically, I’ve heard they track down people who criticize them online).

    As Xanthippe2 pointed out, these people bring their trash everywhere they go.

    We need to party like it’s 1954: Repeat Operation Wetback.

  • Related news:


    I made the case some time ago here on AR that Mexican drug gangs de facto had the power of conscription.  Maybe I had the right lyrics but the wrong music.  Maybe that power isn’t comparable to that of a military draft, but to that of kidnapping.

    Actually, that’s the way conscription worked many centuries ago even in the civilized world, basically legal kidnapping.  If you were a farmer with a teenage son, and had him saddle up and go into town for one chore or another, you knew in the back of your mind that you might never see him again because the King’s men might snatch him up and send him to His Majesty’s Navy before dusk.