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Report on Border Crossing Deaths Makes the Invisible Visible

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September 30, 2009

So much of what human rights advocates do is try to make the invisible visible. The more marginal and vulnerable the victims and the more remote the geographic location, the harder it is to do.

That, in a nutshell, is the goal and challenge of the San Diego ACLU’s report on border crossing deaths, Humanitarian Crisis: Migrant Deaths at the U.S. – Mexico Border, which was released today and is well reported by Spencer Hsu in The Washington Post. Filmmaker John Carlos Frey also uncovers the crisis at the border in his new documentary The 800 Mile Wall.

Marking the 15th anniversary of the misguided border strategy known as Operation Gatekeeper, the report makes visible the following:

  1. In the past 15 years, as many as 5,600 people have died.
  2. These deaths were anticipated in the design of the U.S. border strategy, which deliberately pushes migrants away from inhabited areas into harsh desert and mountainous terrains.
  3. The rate of deaths has increased despite the economic decline and a drop in migration.
  4. The number of rescues has decreased despite a massive increase in Border Patrol agents.

Americans are repelled by injustice. We don’t want to contemplate the awful deaths from dehydration of men, women, and children crossing the desert—not a few hours’ drive from lovely vacation oases like San Diego, Scottsdale, and San Antonio. This cuts both ways. On the one hand, we don’t want to think about it so we put it out of our minds. On the other, when confronted with these realities and the policies responsible for them, we want these problems solved and our lawmakers to make them go away.

Today’s report offers solutions. Starting immediately, the U.S. government can shift more of the existing resources to search and rescue. In short order, the government can better empower nongovernmental humanitarian organizations already aiding in rescue and recovery efforts, create a binational hotline for family members looking for lost loved ones, and improve its tracking of data on deaths.

Ultimately, what is needed is the decency to recognize this problem as a humanitarian crisis and the will to implement more sensible, humane immigration policies that allow migration to come through the ports of entry.

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