US border patrol agents are routinely sabotaging water supplies left for migrants in the Arizona desert, condemning them to death, humanitarian groups have said.
Travellers attempting to cross into the US from Mexico regularly die of dehydration, as well as exposure to extreme heat or cold, so aid groups leave water bottles and emergency stocks such as blankets at points throughout the Sonoran desert.
But the water supplies were vandalised 415 times between 2012 and 2015, which amounted to more than twice a week on average, a report by Tucson-based groups No More Deaths and La Coalición de Derechos Humanos, said.
Overall, 3,586 gallons of water intended for thirsty migrants was sabotaged, data collected by the groups suggested
A video released by the groups showed border patrol agents kicking over water bottles and pouring away their contents. A statement from US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) said it was aware of the footage and that it was filmed around six years ago.
According to the No More Deaths and La Coalición de Derechos Humanos, the water bottles were dumped, confiscated and slashed as part of a strategy to make the crossing more deadly and thus discourage people from crossing from Mexico.
Although hunters, hikers and members of border militia groups also damaged emergency stores, border patrol were the main culprits, according to the report.
“Through video evidence and geographical analysis, as well as personal experience, our team has uncovered a disturbing reality: US Border Patrol agents participate in the widespread interference with essential humanitarian efforts,” the report said.
“The practice of destruction of and interference with aid is not the deviant behaviour of a few rogue border patrol agents, it is a systemic feature of enforcement practices in the borderlands.”
Miguel, a 37-year-old from Sinaloa in Mexico told the report: “They break the bottles so you can’t even use them to fill up at the tanks.
“I needed water, some of the other people in the group needed water, but we found them destroyed. [I felt] helplessness, rage. They must hate us. It’s their work to capture us, but we are humans. And they don’t treat us like humans ... They break the bottles out of hate.”
The findings come amid renewed attention on the White House’s immigration policies after Donald Trump reportedly described El Salvador, Haiti and certain African nations as “shithole” countries. The comments were condemned by leaders from around the world and branded “racist” by the United Nations.
Despite staunch opposition, Mr Trump continues to press on with a plan to build a wall along the US-Mexico border and intends to visit prototypes barrier at the end of January,
In response to criticism that plans for a wall covering the entire US border was unrealistic, he tweeted: “The Wall is the Wall, it has never changed or evolved from the first day I conceived of it.
“Parts will be, of necessity, see through and it was never intended to be built in areas where there is natural protection such as mountains, wastelands or tough rivers or water.”
The US President has also issued a mandate to hire 5,000 new Border Patrol agents at a cost of $297m (£214m).
Over the last two decades, the remains of at least 7,000 people have been recovered from the United States borderlands, the report said.
The CPD said in a statement it had instructed its agents in the Tucson Sector not to remove or destroy water stations, food or other resources left along trails in the desert.
It said it ”shares a common goal with non-governmental organisations to preserve human life and to prevent injury.”
“We do not condone or encourage destruction or tampering with any water or food caches,” it said.
“Anyone aware of these activities occurring is encouraged to report it immediately to the Border Patrol.
“Border Patrol has invested in a wide-range of programs, resources and infrastructure to allow agents to accomplish their border security mission and preserve human life.
“Unfortunately, most who choose to enter the US unlawfully are unprepared for the harsh desert environment and life-threatening dangers they will face.”