Cleaning Up the Border, One Volunteer at a Time

Dozens of volunteers fanned out in the southern Arizona desert over the weekend to collect about five tons of trash left by undocumented immigrants making their way from Mexico.

The volunteers focused on an area of rugged terrain in the Sierrita Mountains about six miles west of Green Valley. The land included state, county and private property.

"Picture a football-field-length area about 30 feet wide covered with backpacks crushed down two to four backpacks deep, countless numbers of water bottles, cans of food, clothing, blankets and shoes," said Thomas Gulino, a 55-year-old Tucson heavy-construction mechanic who was among the 25 volunteers on the weekend cleanup.

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The Arizona Department of Environmental Quality estimates that immigrants leave behind about 2,000 tons of trash every year.

"All we've done really is scratch the surface," Gulino said Sunday.

Various groups organize cleanups throughout the year to try to put a dent into the problem.

This weekend's event was organized by the Arizona Game and Fish Department and partially paid for with a grant from the Bureau of Land Management.

Game and Fish spokesman Mark Hart said that most of the volunteers came from southern Arizona and from all walks of life, including from a nurse to a retired wildlife biologist.

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The volunteers set up camp about 10 miles from the cleanup site, which they had to access with all-terrain vehicles and on foot before hauling loads of trash away.

The trash sites were identified beforehand during helicopter flyovers.

Matthew Walton, landowner-relations coordinator at Game and Fish, said the department focuses on areas where the trash is egregious and areas that are no longer as heavily trafficked by immigrants and smugglers.

Walton also organizes border cleanups using Department of Corrections inmates, who he said collected 75 tons of trash last year.

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