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Tucson Samaritans provide water, food, first aid, and other essential items to migrants who cross the border in southern Arizona. Our goal is to alleviate the suffering of people who are making the arduous journey to a better life across the harsh Sonoran desert. Tucson Samaritans is a grassroots, volunteer-run, humanitarian aid organization. Join us in our work to provide aid and support to those in need by volunteering or making a donation.

Curious about civil initiative or ways to engage with the humanitarian crisis at the border?
Here is a collection of resources about civil initiative, the history of the border, and other organizations taking action. 

Civil Initiative

“Civil Initiative” is our guiding principle. Civil initiative is also the guiding principle of the Sanctuary Movement that began in Tucson in the 1980s to provide safe havens to people who entered the United States to flee persecution in their home countries but who were at risk of being deported by the U.S. to those same countries. One of the primary developers of civil initiative was Jim Corbett, a writer, philosopher, and humanitarian who was a rancher in southern Arizona.


Corbett wrote, “Civil initiative means doing justice, not just resisting injustice. This usually requires that we assume governmental functions on an emergency basis…The accountability of civil initiative is to the rule of law rather than to government officials.”


  • Civil initiative is nonviolent, truthful, wide-ranging, cooperative, pertinent, volunteer-based, and community centered.

  • Civil initiative neither evades nor seizes police powers.

  • Civil initiative is transparent and subject to public examination.

  • Civil initiative is wide-ranging and not factional. We protect those whose rights are being violated, regardless of the victim’s ideological position or political usefulness.

  • Civil initiative is cooperative.  Dialogue with authorities must exist in an atmosphere of respect for government officials as persons and with an attitude of willingness to compromise.

  • Civil initiative leads us to actions to meet the needs of people fleeing life-threatening situations and not to actions that are primarily symbolic or merely expressive. Media coverage and public opinion are of secondary importance; or central concern is to do justice rather than to petition others to do it. 

  • Civil initiative is a volunteer-based effort; no new bureaucracy should be formed that would conflict with governmental functions of those constitutionally designated to assume responsibility. 

  • Civil initiative is community-centered. Our exercise of civil initiative must be integrated within the community and must outlast and out-reach individuals acts of conscience


Other Ways to Engage

Tucson Samaritans work alongside other organizations addressing the humanitarian crisis along the Arizona/Mexico border, all of which depend on volunteers to accomplish their missions.


Humane Borders maintains stationary water tanks in heavily-traveled corridors and works with the Pima County Office of the Medical Examiner to document the locations where migrants remains have been found. 


Green Valley Samaritans began their life-saving desert work a few years after the founding of Tucson Samaritans and include former Tucsonans who have moved to Green Valley, a small community south of Tucson. Tucson and Green Valley Samaritans frequently coordinate their work in order to accomplish more than either organization can on its own.


Ajo Samaritans were inspired by Tucson Samaritans in 2012 to undertake similar efforts, but in the even harsher and less populated desert around the town of Ajo, 130 miles west of Tucson. Tucson Samaritans make overnight trips to Ajo on a regular basis to support Ajo Samaritans in leaving water along paths in that part of the Sonoran desert.


No More Deaths originated as an outreach of Tucson Samaritans to focus on the spike in deaths that occur in the summer months. They became an independent organization in 2008 and provide humanitarian aid as well as doing research and publishing reports on abuses of migrants by Border Patrol agents. Tucson Samaritans, Green Valley Samaritans, and No More Deaths have been working closely together in the winter of 2023 to assist the hundreds of asylum seekers crossing the border daily south of Tucson.


Casa Alitas offers shelter, necessities and travel assistance to asylum-seeking families in Tucson who have been processed and released from Border Patrol and ICE detention, helping  guests find safe harbor and reunite with loved ones across the U.S.


End Streamline Coalition works to end the criminalization of migration, prosecutions for illegal entry and re-entry, and en mass court systems that deny due process.

Kino Border Initiative is a bi-national organization that provides support to migrants in its shelters and soup kitchen in Nogales, Sonora, plus education and abuse documentation.

Salvavision is a Tucson-based non-profit organization with a focus on providing aid and support to asylum seekers, migrants, and returnees. Salavision operates Casa de la Esperanza in the small border pueblo of Sasabe, Sonora, to provide assistance to migrants that the town of 2,000 people struggles to provide. Salavision was started by two Tucson Samaritans.

The desert landscape

Learning Resources

Podcasts & Websites



  • Who is Dayani Crystal is an award-winning film by Gael García Bernal and Marc Silver documenting the discovery near Tucson of the remains of a migrant and the intense work required to identify those remains. 


  • Hostile Terrain 94 is a participatory art project sponsored and organized by the Undocumented Migration Project, a non-profit research-art-education-media collective, directed by anthropologist Jason De León. The exhibition is composed of over 3,400 handwritten toe tags that represent migrants who have died trying to cross the Sonoran Desert of Arizona between the mid-1990s and 2022. These tags are geolocated on a wall map of the desert showing the exact locations where remains were found. This installation has been shown nationally and globally in close to 80 locations since 2019 and continues to be shown around the U.S.

  • The Migrant Quilt Project is a grassroots, collaborative effort of artists, quiltmakers, and activists to express compassion for migrants from Mexico and Central America who died in the Southern Arizona deserts on their way to create better lives for themselves and their families. Materials used in the quilts were collected at migrant layup sites used for rest and shelter on established trails in the Sonoran Desert.

  • Visual artist Lisa Elmelah’s Promised Land photo series is a stunning representation of the humanity of the people who cross or attempt to cross the U.S.-Mexican border. Many of her photos have been taken on Samaritans trips.

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