SAN DIEGO - A group of California artists wants Mexicans and Central Americans to have more than just a few cans of tuna and a jug of water for their illegal trek through the harsh desert into the United States.
Faculty at University of California, San Diego, are developing a GPS-enabled cellphone that tells dehydrated migrants where to find water, and pipes in poetry from phone speakers, regaling them on their journey much like the words of Emma Lazarus did a century ago to the “huddled masses yearning to breathe free’’ on Ellis Island.
The Transborder Immigrant Tool is part technology endeavor, part art project. It introduces a high-tech twist to an old debate about how far activists can go to prevent migrants from dying on the border without breaking the law.
Immigration hard-liners argue that the activists are aiding illegal entry to the United States, a felony. Even migrants and their sympathizers question whether the device will make the treacherous journey easier.
The designers - three visual artists on UCSD’s faculty and an English professor at the University of Michigan - are undeterred as they criticize a US policy that they say embraces some illegal immigrants for cheap labor while letting others die crossing the border.
“It’s about giving water to somebody who’s dying in the desert of dehydration,’’ said Micha Cardenas, 32, a UCSD lecturer.