TUCSON, Ariz. - Some call it "The Path of Fire." The Sonoran Desert is a vast natural barrier that makes crossing into the United States a gamble for even the well-prepared migrant worker from Mexico.
Unfortunately, most illegal immigrants are not prepared for the heat and days of walking to reach civilization. As a result, hundreds die in the desert every year.
For Rev. Robin Hoover, that takes illegal immigration from a political issue to a human one.
"When you go out in the desert and you recover, as my wife and I have, the body of an 18-year-old, beautiful Guatemalan beauty queen, you'll think differently about policies," Hoover explained.
"For the last 11 years, I've been working continuously to provide goods and services to persons risking their lives coming into the United States so that they won't lose their lives," he said.
"We have put out water stations in the desert. We've created warning posters to promote immigrant safety, to keep them from dying in our deserts," he added.
Hoover now hands out locator beacons on the Mexican side of the border.
"This device, 90 percent of it is battery and there's a little chip up inside here," he explained. "Just like your cell phone it finds out where it is using satellite technology and then you press a button and it sends a message over to the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration."
"And they'll call local authorities, sheriff's department or whoever is appointed for search and rescue in this county and they'll come and find you," he said. Hoover said he believes it's his Christian duty to help the travelers, regardless of their legal status.
However, Pinal County Sherriff Paul Babeu thinks this strategy is wrong.
"We shouldn't be encouraging them. We shouldn't be putting out maps," he said. "I'm all for if somebody needs help that we help them, that we rescue them. We're not going to let anybody, I don't care who they are, to perish."
"It is more than a tacit encouragement. You are out there almost condoning," he added about Hoover's tactics. "Well, if they are putting out maps and you have water points, it's almost like it's a hiking trail."
Border Patrol Agent Eric Cantu agrees.
"These groups may have good intentions, but they may be inadvertently putting people in harm's way," Cantu said.
"Just because you have a GPS doesn't mean the battery isn't going to die. If you try to give these illegal aliens more resources, that may give them a false sense of security," he explained.
"We are not in an adversarial relationship with law enforcement," Hoover told CBN News. "This is like issuing a life preserver to somebody that's operating a boat. Everybody is safer and we save money in the county."
"Right now the strategy of the United States government is to make it as physically difficult as possible to enter into the United States," he said. "And it's more likely that somebody who is already here, undocumented, in the United States won't go home because it's too dangerous and too expensive to come back."
"We as Christians need to do is take a very hard look at the social cost of this migration," Hoover said.
Ed Ashurst is a cattle rancher whose neighbor was murdered last year by a Mexican drug runner. He said the greater costs are on the backs of border communities like his.
"In the last four years, no less than 80 percent of the homes have been molested by illegal aliens in some way or another," he said.
"My home has been broken into, between me and my son, four different times. And I have seen myself literally thousands of illegal aliens cross the land that I manage," Ashurst recalled.
Criminals Crossing Border
The sheriff of Cochise County, Ariz., where Ashurst lives agrees with him, saying it's not just the number of people crossing, it's that so many of them are criminals.
"Theft, burglary ,sexual assault. But with a lot of those crimes, the perpetrators are in fact illegal aliens. People that are crossing here," Sheriff Larry Deaver explained.
"We do know according to Border Patrol statistics that 17 to 20 percent of the people they capture have previous, serious criminal records in this country," he said. "Well, the American people need to understand the very serious consequence of a continuous, porous open border."
But Rev. Hoover said the only way to address this issue is by figuring out how to share resources with our southern neighbors.
"They want to have less political noise on the border with criminal order, law enforcement, health care, etc. You can't have any of that stuff until you meet the concrete needs of the migrants who are staring at us from the desert," he pointed out.
"If there is anything criminal, it's our own country planting the seed of belief that you can make it and having people die out there," Sheriff Deaver said. "We need to plant the seeds and sow them. The seeds that will demonstrate that you are not going to make it."