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California aid volunteers prepare for a crisis as migrants cross during heatwaves


Here in California, we're expecting record-breaking heat this week, with temperatures above 100 degrees in parts of the state. Humanitarian aid workers say they're bracing for a crisis as migrants increasingly cross through dangerous parts of the southern border. NPR's Jasmine Garsd has been reporting near San Diego.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Water to drink...

JASMINE GARSD, BYLINE: It's dawn at the foot of the Otay Mountain, a 3,500-foot range between the U.S. and Mexico. And the heat is already nauseating. Today, NPR is embedding with the humanitarian aid group Border Relief Collective (ph), private citizens who deliver water and first aid to migrants. Almost as soon as they start up the mountain, they encounter a man sitting on the side of the road.


UNIDENTIFIED AID WORKER #1: Where are you from?

GARSD: When he sees the aid workers, he starts crying. They give him water, which he chugs down. He says he's from Mauritania, Africa. His name is Taleb. Before we get a last name, he's ushered aside for care by the aid workers. His feet are blistered, and he's dehydrated. Volunteer David Greenblatt, who is a surgeon, uses Google to translate to Arabic.

AUTOMATED VOICE: (Speaking Arabic).


GARSD: Greenblatt says the situation out here has been getting worse. This week, temperatures in parts of Southern California soared to a record-breaking 128 degrees. Volunteers say they are seeing more heat strokes and severe dehydration.

UNIDENTIFIED AID WORKER #2: We're all very worried about what the coming months - what will happen. It's just going to get hotter and hotter and hotter.

GARSD: The U.N. says the U.S.-Mexico border is the deadliest land route for migrants in the world. According to Custom and Border Protection (ph), here in the San Diego sector, migrant deaths have been rising for years. Thirty-nine migrants died last year trying to cross the border with Mexico. Compare that to four deaths back in 2018. In recent weeks, the Biden administration has essentially closed down the border to most undocumented asylum seekers, which immigration analysts say is bound to push desperate migrants to cross through more dangerous and deadly areas.


GARSD: Several miles further down, at the base of the border wall, a family with small children sitting out in the windy desert heat almost looks like a mirage. They're waiting to ask Border Patrol for asylum. In recent months, the San Diego region has seen a dramatic increase in families seeking asylum.

JAVI: (Speaking Spanish).

GARSD: The 7-year-old boy, Javi, is very shy. He's holding a teddy bear.

JAVI: Balun.

GARSD: The bear's name is Balun, and he traveled all the way from Michoacan, Mexico. I ask him how Balun has been holding up.

JAVI: (Speaking Spanish).

GARSD: He feels "hot," he says.

This family did, in fact, come from Michoacan. They say they are escaping cartel violence. Javi's mother, Jazmin Mora, says, on her way to cross the border, she heard all kinds of rumors - that the heat can kill you, that there are rattlesnakes and mountain lions, that the U.S. border was closed.

JAZMIN MORA: (Speaking Spanish).

GARSD: "Why would anyone put their kids through this?" she asks. "Because," she says, "the risk of staying outweighs the risk of crossing, regardless of the heat."

Jasmine Garsd, NPR News, San Diego. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Jasmine Garsd is an Argentine-American journalist living in New York. She is currently NPR's Criminal Justice correspondent and the host of The Last Cup. She started her career as the co-host of Alt.Latino, an NPR show about Latin music. Throughout her reporting career she's focused extensively on women's issues and immigrant communities in America. She's currently writing a book of stories about women she's met throughout her travels.