No More Deaths offers volunteer opportunities with our desert-aid project throughout the year. The following general information applies to all participants in this volunteer program. Please review it before applying.
- Desert aid
- Group size
- Non–US citizens
- What to bring
- For more information
Groups and individuals participating in our volunteer programs provide direct aid in the US–Mexico borderlands, where people migrating continue to unnecessarily suffer and die crossing a militarized border. We mobilize as humanitarian-aid and human-rights workers in the Arizona desert to challenge lethal and cruel policies that systematically place migrants on the receiving end of violence.
No More Deaths has an ongoing humanitarian presence in the desert migration corridor south of Tucson, utilizing both a fixed base camp and intermittent mobile camps. Our efforts are concentrated north of the international border in Arizona, and focus on upholding the most fundamental human right—life itself—by providing basic humanitarian assistance to those in need. Desert-aid volunteers will participate in a variety of activities including providing water, food, and medical attention to migrants crossing the Arizona–Mexico border. Volunteers participating in the desert-aid program should be comfortable with camping, extreme high and low temperatures, strenuous physical activity, high-stress situations, and flexible/irregular daily schedules.
The primary function of the desert-aid volunteering is to staff our base camp, which is considered a medical facility, and to maintain water and supply drops on known migrant trails via driving and hiking. We operate out of our base camp in Arivaca, Arizona, as well as out of Tucson and Ajo, Arizona.
We also conduct search-and-rescue and search-and-recovery operations for reported missing persons.
Desert-aid volunteers are expected to:
- Commit first, and above all, to service.
- Follow our protocols and the principles of civil initiative.
- Attend our training and “taking it home” activities.
- Provide your own outdoor gear for volunteering in the desert (packing list will be provided).
- If you are a volunteer group of five or more, we expect you to provide your own transportation around town and out to the desert camp. Driving to camp requires a high-clearance, four-wheel drive vehicle. See Transportation below.
Providing year-round humanitarian aid is a costly project. Volunteer fees help to offset that cost. Your contribution not only makes it possible for us to run a volunteer program, but also allows us to purchase water, food, medicine, first-aid supplies, and socks for migrants. Volunteer fees only partially offset the cost of the program.
One of our goals is to include everyone who wants to be involved in the work we do. To that end, we encourage you to be creative in your efforts to raise money for this project. Seek out educational grants, do community fundraising, and invite your family and friends to support your participation in the program. We are willing to work with applicants on fee reductions. No one will be turned away for lack of funds. (See Fundraising below.)
The volunteer fee covers volunteer lodging, food, training and transportation.
Throughout most of the year, we cannot accommodate groups larger than four. We do encourage potential desert-aid volunteers to apply as a group with others. It enables volunteers to prepare collectively for their trip, provides a natural and preexisting support network for challenging works, and often creates a good starting place for taking next steps in organizing for migrant justice when volunteers return to their home communities.
We encourage you to raise the volunteer fee through fundraising. Use this as an opportunity for people in your community to learn about and support your time volunteering. Ideas for fundraising previously used by volunteers include spaghetti dinners, salsa dance nights, house parties, presentations to your church/school communities, letter-writing campaigns to friends and family, appealing to businesses for sponsorship, and more. We expect that you view your involvement with No More Deaths beyond your arrival in and departure from Tucson; committing to our mission without physically being on the border is an essential part of awareness raising and movement building. Hopefully you will view your volunteer experience with No More Deaths as a short but intense part of what you hope to accomplish, instead of viewing it as the goal itself.
We invite people of conscience everywhere to join in this effort. Participation requires no special skills or background, although Spanish and medical skills are always helpful. We require only a commitment to putting one’s beliefs into practice. If you are willing to tolerate a degree of emotional intensity, stress, and physical discomfort for the sake of something you believe in, and physically able to hike mountain trails, carry weight, and tolerate bumpy car rides (under the hot sun during most times of year), we urge you to join us.
No More Deaths welcomes non–US citizens to participate in our volunteer programs, but there are some important things to know.
During your time with us, you will be traveling through internal immigration checkpoints where you will be questioned about your citizenship and immigration status by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents. If you are not a US citizen, you should be prepared to present documentation proving you have legal permission to be in the US. If you do not have your documentation you can be detained, questioned, or possibly arrested by CBP agents. You may also have these interactions with CBP agents on the trails, on the roads, and at camp, and so you should carry your documentation at all times.
Documents needed for non–US citizens:
- International students: valid visa and passport
- Visitors to US: valid visa and passport (if from visa-waiver country, just passport)
- Permanent residents: Permanent Resident card and state ID
- People with DACA or DAPA: Employment Approval Document and state or consular ID
You must carry your original documents and keep copies in a safe place (you may want to keep copies in your email account).
For people with discretionary statuses like DACA, DAPA, visas, and Permanent Residency, our legal team advises us that there may be consequences to maintaining your status if you encounter legal complications during your involvement with No More Deaths. We do host volunteers with these statuses and have not had this happen to date, but we encourage you to consider this possibility before coming. Please contact us regarding any questions about documents and legality.
Please contact us with any questions about documents.
Volunteering with No More Deaths is not risk-free. The places around the world where humanitarian aid work is done are typically unsafe or at least uncomfortable places. The Arizona–Sonora border region is no exception. The dangers this region poses to humanitarian aid workers are relatively minor in comparison to other global trouble spots. They are also minuscule compared to the dangers that people in migration face. Still, they are very real. The border region is an increasingly militarized zone, a situation familiar in other parts of the world.
Our work can be very stressful. We meet people who have suffered and are suffering greatly, and the potential for secondary trauma is high. We ask that you carefully consider your mental and physical capacity to work in this environment before you apply to join us. It is of great importance that we be able to focus all our efforts on providing direct assistance to those in need.
We are very clear about the legal parameters of our work in the desert, and cover them extensively in training. We do not do anything illegal. Unfortunately, this does not mean we are immune from legal threats and challenges. You should carefully consider your willingness to accept the legal risk. Individuals in more vulnerable legal situations to begin with—non–US citizens, for example—need to weigh this particularly carefully.
Racism and its effects exist everywhere in this country and are amplified on the border. One of the effects of intense border militarization that we encounter on a daily basis is racial profiling. NMD volunteers who are Latin@, or perceived to be, have encountered targeted harassment and profiling from CBP agents and some local residents. We regularly encounter Border Patrol agents on patrol, sometimes in cars and sometimes on foot in remote places. We recognize that as much as we try to build structure to minimize risks to our volunteers and provide support, we are working in a militarized desert and there are unknowns.
Due to our limited number of vehicles, groups of five or more are expected to provide their own transportation out to the desert camp. Normally this means renting or borrowing a vehicle or vehicles. Vehicles must be all-wheel-drive or four-wheel-drive as well as high-clearance, such as pickup trucks or SUVs.
If you are an individual or a group of four or fewer, transportation to and from camp and airport/bus pickups will be provided, but we cannot guarantee transportation around Tucson during breaks from volunteering.
What to bring
A packing list will be included in prearrival information. Housing will be provided during your stay in Tucson. In the desert, volunteers will sleep outdoors in a camping environment. All volunteers should come with their own bedding (i.e., sleeping bag and ground pad) and tent.
For more information
Please direct all volunteer inquiries and questions to our volunteer coordinator.