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Special Collections acquires archive of Humane Borders, a Tucson-based nonprofit organization

Border fence gap/Humane Borders

Date: September 30, 2011

Contact: Chrystal Carpenter


Special Collections at the University of Arizona announces the recent acquisition of the Humane Borders Fronteras Compasivas archive, an important addition to the university’s extensive Southwest and Borderlands holdings, which offer students studying history, journalism, Latin American studies and other disciplines the opportunity to access important historical documents that chronicle the development of Arizona, Sonora and the greater Southwest.

Humane Borders, a Tucson-based nonprofit organization, works in collaboration with more than sixty supporting institutions including churches, human rights organizations, corporate sponsors and legal advocacy groups, to provide humanitarian assistance to migrants crossing the United States border with Mexico, while also encouraging the creation of public policies towards a non-militarized border with legalized work opportunities for migrants in the U.S. and legitimate economic opportunities in migrants’ countries of origin.

Founded in June 2000 with the specific intention of trying to minimize migrant deaths in the desert, Humane Borders maintains a number of water stations dispersed throughout the Arizona/Mexico border region, particularly in areas of high migrant traffic. Since the organization’s founding, more than 15,000 volunteers from around the world have come to Arizona to donate their time and effort to this cause. Working with the U.S. Border Patrol, the Pima County Medical Examiner and the Mexican Consulate, Humane Borders has also developed a detailed map of the borderlands region depicting the GPS location of every migrant discovered to have died in southern Arizona while crossing the desert.

Begun in 2001 and showing the sites of migrant deaths through 2009, this map has become a useful tool in the organization’s mission to dispense water, helping determine which areas are most traveled, and raising the awareness of local land managers and owners. “It’s visually stunning,” says Reverend Robin Hoover, Founder and President Emeritus of Humane Borders. Many migrant trails pass through public lands, and the organization can take this map to the people in charge, and say, “Look, you’ve had this number of deaths here. We’ve got the water to prevent more. Let’s work together.” The group currently maintains water stations around Pima County and the city of Tucson, as well as in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge, Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge and Ironwood Forest National Monument.

A pastor at the First Christian Church of Tucson from 2000-2010, Rev. Hoover has worked as a border activist for some 25 years, and together with his wife Sue Goodman, has assembled a vast archive of documents pertaining to border issues and migrant rights from the last decade. “The Humane Borders archive reveals a particular window of American history,” says Hoover. In giving the archive to the UA, Hoover hopes to foster a greater understanding of the political and social pressures behind today’s immigration debate, and hopes a younger generation will come to “understand the roles of faith-based groups working on border issues.”

“Fifty years from now, when people come back to Arizona, it won’t be to see the desert,” says Hoover, who is currently completing a book on social theology along the U.S. southwest border, “It will be because this was their Ellis Island. This history needs to be preserved.”

The Humane Borders archive includes a vast collection of media coverage of border issues, including newspaper clippings, video news clips and a number of recorded interviews, as well as a series of large color maps, reports on water stations, migrant rights, and the recent debates surrounding Arizona SB 1070. The collection also contains thank you notes from various supporters, “hate mail” sent to Humane Borders, and more than a thousand photos, as well as a decade’s worth of administrative files detailing the day-to-day operations of the organization.

The extensive Humane Borders collection documents the turbulent last decade of border issues in Arizona, and provides researchers and students an opportunity to examine the roles of faith-based groups and other social welfare organizations in providing hands-on humanitarian assistance to migrants, as well as the roles of those organizations in the greater immigration debate. This collection is a valuable addition to the University Libraries’ Special Collections, and its extensive Southwest and Borderlands holdings.

The Humane Borders collection is available to the public upon request. Related information can be found in the Rev. Robin Hoover collection, also recently acquired by the University Libraries.

Related Coverage

UANews | Special Collections Acquires New Archives
AZ Daily Wildcat | Special Collections receives set of Humane Borders archives