Altar, Sonora: The Business of Smuggling

Once a sleepy agricultural town, the entire economy of Altar, Sonora is, at this point, based on human smuggling. Sitting just an hour drive south of the Arizona-Mexico border, Altar is the last and most critical stop before migrants take to the dangerous desert crossing. Sacha Feinman and David Rochkind travel to Altar to examine the business of human smuggling, and to chart the evolution of an industry that has changed radically in the last two decades.

Small, independent operators that long helped undocumented workers find their way into the U.S. have been replaced by far more sophisticated operations controlled in part by Mexico's deadly drug cartels. The recent history of the U.S.-Mexico border is a story of escalation. As the U.S. government poured more money and resources into sealing off the border, the journey into the U.S. became more difficult, more dangerous, more expensive and more profitable. Thus the arrival of the cartels. With unprecedented levels of violence spilling over the border and into the U.S. a question arises: have we reached the point of no return?

Altar, Sonora: A Dangerous Crossing

After leaving Altar, migrants face a variety of threats, like drug cartels, bandits, the environment and US Border Patrol. They often get lost or disoriented in the desert and depend on the Border Patrol, or Mexico's Grupo Beta, to find them and save them from dehydration or hypothermia. The ones who are picked up by the border patrol are usually deported or repatriated to Nogales, Sonora, where they will rest up and prepare for their next attempt at crossing.

David Rochkind / Pulitzer Center

David Rochkind's Work Shortlisted for Human Rights Award

It is a great honor to present the winners of anthropographia Awards 2010. Anthropographia's aim is to create new spaces for photojournalism; new spaces that encourage the promotion of human rights, expose social injustice and underline the multiple realities of our current world.