“Dan Rather Reports” Goes Searching For the Lost with the “Angel of the Desert”

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Colette Carey
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When illegal immigrants disappear while trying to cross into the United States, who finds these desperate souls in grave danger?

DALLAS (October 17, 2011) – Tomorrow night’s “Dan Rather Reports” travels to the American southwest, and to what has become the most dangerous border in the world – the one that separates the United States from Mexico. On average, one person dies per day, trying to cross illegally into the United States through the Sonoran desert.

And when these illegal immigrants disappear in this deadly desert terrain, the local authorities and border patrol rarely, if ever, search for them. But, a middle-aged, retired mechanic from San Diego does just that. Rafael Hernandez is known as “The Angel of the Desert” to the many desperate families looking for loved ones who have disappeared while trying to cross into the United States. Often, it is a race against time.

Someone lost in the desert can survive at most a few days without water, and many illegals carry little to no provisions.

So why would anyone attempt this passage? Once, it was all about money or a better paying job. But in recent years it’s been more about family. The reality is that many illegal immigrants living in the United States have been here for decades. Our investigation has found in the United States today, there are an estimated 4 million American children with an illegal immigrant parent. That means there are four million kids who live under the constant threat of having a parent deported. And that number is growing rapidly.

Paulo Avendano almost died trying to enter the United States through the Sonoran Desert to re-unite with his wife and son, both U.S. citizens. He tells Rather he received little help from his “coyote”(or person who helped arrange his passage for a price). Avendano says he asked the “coyote”, “‘Do I need food, water or anything?’ The coyote replied, ‘No, no you don’t need anything. Just bring a jacket.'”

Six days later he was stranded and lost in the desert. But for a miraculous rescue by the “Angel of the Desert,” Avendano would have died:

But, while these families see Hernandez as their “angel,” some feel that his work in helping to find these illegal immigrants is breaking the law – even though he turns them into the authorities once they have been found.

“People often treat me as a criminal because of what I’m doing. As if I’m breaking the law,” said Hernandez. “But to me, the law is to try to save lives, no matter who it is.”

“Dan Rather Reports” premieres on HDNet, Tuesday, October 18 at 8:00 p.m. ET with a re-air at 11:00 p.m. ET to accommodate West Coast Prime Time.

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