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As migrants make their way across the Arizona border, aid groups look to offer support

Gail Kocourek has worked with Tucson Samaritans, a Tucson based organization, for years. The group aims to provide aid to those trying to cross into the U.S.

NOGALES, Ariz. — Recent numbers from U.S. Customs and Border Protection Border Patrol show migrant crossings have dropped significantly since the end of Title 42.

But there is no way to stop groups from crossing altogether. That’s where humanitarian aid groups step in. They said they are not here to be judge and jury. Their goal is to make sure crossing doesn’t become a death sentence.

Gail Kocourek has worked with Tucson Samaritans, a Tucson based organization, for years. The group aims to provide aid to those trying to cross into the U.S. from southern Arizona.

During a recent trip to the border, she yelled, "Buenos tardes. Buenos tardes. Oh…niños." Her Spanish is limited, but she knows what matters to these asylum seekers found crossing into the U.S. through Sasabe, Arizona.

"Necesita la migra?" 

She asked if they’re looking for Border Patrol. "Si. Si por favor," they respond saying yes please. She handed them water before she looked to see if she spotted any Border Patrol vehicles along this remote area of the border wall.

The group has traveled here from Peru. They said there are more people ahead of them. Kocourek and fellow volunteer Mary Koehler are familiar with this area. They try to come multiple times a week.

But as she approached the other group farther up, Kocourek realized they weren’t the only ones out here.

“Oh my god.  This…this is not border patrol,” she noticed as they get closer. 

It’s a citizens border watch group who have stopped the crossers. One man immediately takes out a phone and starts filming Gail and her vehicle as they pass.

She's no stranger to these kinds of encounters with tensions high surrounding the border. But she and Koehler don't let it stop them from doing the work. 

Just hours earlier 12News caught up with Kocourek as she loaded up the SUV with food and water in Tucson before heading out. It takes about an hour and 15 minutes to get to Sasabe from Tucson. And it turns remote, quickly.

Kocourek pulled over after spotting a blue flag. 

"This is a Humane Borders water tank. And it feels like the water level is right about here,” she said as her hand slides down the big blue barrel. 

There are about 63 throughout southern Arizona but most are in southern Pima County. They’re there to provide lifesaving water to those in need and they can find them if they spot the blue flag waving in the air.

They’re locked up and Kocourek said the locks were put on the water tanks after people would mess or try to contaminate the water.

Humane Borders is an Arizona-based non-profit tracks immigrant deaths. They are marked by red dots on a map. Many deaths happen in the Sonoran Desert on the Tohono O'odham Nation which Kocourek said doesn't allow the Samaritan groups onto their land.

That's why she tries to get as close as possible to the most common border crossings.  

Two years ago, the Samaritans along with another aid group Salvavision opened up Casa De La Esperanza in Sasabe, Sonora, Mexico. It’s a shelter located about a quarter mile across the border. It’s a place for weary migrants to rest. And that's where Mary can keep up her nursing skills.

"I'm looking for dizziness, are they lightheaded any of that kind of stuff. But wounds are probably the biggest thing that we see," she told 12News.

At one point, Kocourek pulled over and jumped out of the vehicle and ran to the gap in the wall. 

"Somos Samaritanos! Necesita agua?!" she yelled after spotting a lookout on the Mexico side. 

But he quickly ran away after yelling something indistinguishable. "Maybe he's going to get more people," she guessed. But he never came back. So, like they've done many times before, they leave the water behind. They do this hoping to save the lives of those they may never meet.

For more information visit http://www.tucsonsamaritans.org.

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