This news comes from USA Today (never great for in-depth reporting):
Three California professors say they are developing a cellphone tool that uses GPS technology to help illegal immigrants safely cross the border.
The Transborder Immigrant Tool would help migrants find water in the deserts near the border and otherwise avoid getting lost in their treacherous trek north.
The Associated Press says the phone would be programmed to show where water stations are located and how far away they are.
"It’s about giving water to somebody who’s dying in the desert of dehydration," said Micha Cardenas, 32, a UCSD lecturer.
The effort is being done on the government’s dime — an irony not lost on the designers whose salaries are paid by the state of California.
"There are many, many areas in which every American would say I don’t like the way my tax dollars are being spent. Our answer to that is an in-your-face, so what?" says UCSD lecturer Brett Stalbaum, 33, a self-described news junkie who likens his role to chief technology officer.
Migrants walk for days in extreme heat, often eating tuna and crackers handed out at migrant shelters inMexico. On Arizona ranches, they sip desperately from bins used by cows when their water runs out.
Hundreds have perished each year since heightened U.S. border enforcement pushed migrants out of large cities like San Diego and El Paso, Texas, in the 1990s. In response, migrant sympathizers put jugs or even barrels of water in the desert.
The designers want to load inexpensive phones with GPS software that takes signals from satellite, independent of phone networks. Pressing a menu button displays water stations, with the distance to each. A user selects one and follows an arrow on the screen.
Some worry the software could lead migrants to damaged or abandoned water stations. Others wonder if it would lull them into a false sense of security or alert the Border Patrol and anti-illegal immigration activists to their whereabouts.
John Hunter, who has planted water barrels in California’s scorching Imperial Valley since the late 1990s, says vandals destroy about 40 of his 150 stations every year.
"My concern is for people who arrive and find (the water) doesn’t exist," he says.