‘My brother was a fighter’: One man’s mission to find peace after his family died crossing the southern border

Ely Ortiz — who emigrated from the state of Oaxaca in the 1980s to San Diego — is on a mission: searching for the remains of people who died while attempting to cross the border through the Arizona and California deserts, and attempting to rescue those who are stranded but still alive.

Video Transcript

[MUSIC PLAYING]

ELY ORTIZ: [SPEAKING SPANISH]

- Ely Ortiz's brother, Rigoberto Ortiz, and cousin, Carmelo Ortiz, both left their homes in the state of Oaxaca in May.

ELY ORTIZ: [SPEAKING SPANISH]

- During his brother's journey to the US, Ely said his brother and cousin were left behind by the smuggler, both stranded in the middle of the desert on the Barry M, Goldwater Air Force range in Arizona, one of the biggest bombing ranges in the US. With little to no water or food, Ely said most people get abandoned due to heat exhaustion, physical injury, illness, or simply, they become too tired to take another step, becoming a barrier for the rest to continue their trek.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

ELY ORTIZ: [SPEAKING SPANISH]

- These dots represent a human life lost in the desert. This dot, where Ely's family died. In the surrounding area, more deaths.

ELY ORTIZ: [SPEAKING SPANISH]

- Because the access to the military base was difficult, Ely waited nearly four months for the permits to be granted to be allowed to conduct a search on the base.

ELY ORTIZ: [SPEAKING SPANISH]

[MUSIC PLAYING]

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

- Since his family's passing, Ely founded a non-profit organization, Aguilas del Desierto, which translates to Eagles of the Desert. The group's mission is to help families whose loved ones are missing in the desert areas near the border in Arizona and California.

ELY ORTIZ: [SPEAKING SPANISH]

[MUSIC PLAYING]

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