That 1970s image of the Indian with a single tear coursing down his cheek as he is hit by litter thrown from a passing car is being supplanted. In the 21st-century version he would be up to his eyeballs in mounds of trash—on the Arizona–Mexico border, at least.
As U.S. immigration laws and practices tighten, immigrants making their way north through Mexico are passing through more and more remote areas, leaving literally tons of trash behind. Now it totals 2,000 tons per year, Arizona officials say, and they have created a website, Arizona Border Trash, to highlight the problem.
The site, put together by the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality, is meant to publicize the scope of the problem, as well as solicit volunteers to help clean up the 370-mile border between Arizona and Mexico. Native American partners are the Cocopah Indian Tribe, Pascua Yaqui Nation, Quechan Tribe and Tohono O’odham Nation.
“Border trash refers to items discarded by persons involved in illegal immigration such as plastic containers, clothing, backpacks, foodstuffs, vehicles, bicycles, and paper,” the ADEQ said. “It can also consist of human waste and sometimes medical products.”
Besides the unsightliness of piled and strewn trash, the blight causes erosion and watershed degradation, damages infrastructure and property, and contributes to loss of vegetation and wildlife, the department said.
Although illegal dumping is a major problem everywhere in the state, ADEQ spokesman Mark Shaffer told the Phoenix New Times that the Border Trash site was an initiative from Gov. Jan Brewer’s office. “It’s five-feet-deep in some places,” Shaffer told the newspaper, adding that he has been out on a cleanup or two.