Wall along border will increase human smuggling
Tightening up on the borders has perverse -- and fatal -- consequences. A Texas federal court jury recently convicted three people in a notorious human smuggling case.
The crime was grisly: In May 2003, 19 undocumented immigrants -- including a 5-year-old boy -- from Mexico, Central and South America died after being locked in an abandoned truck in Victoria, Texas.
Victor Sanchez Rodriguez, his wife, Emma Sapata Rodriguez and her half-sister, Rosa Sarrata Gonzalez, all U.S. citizens, were convicted of conspiracy to harbor and transport undocumented immigrants. In total, 11 people have been convicted for their role in the smuggling operation.
More than 70 men, women and children were locked in an airless trailer for the trip from the border into Texas. Seventeen perished from dehydration, overheating and suffocation during their six-and-a-half-hour ordeal. Two more died later.
The trial has brought renewed attention to an increasing problem. Over the past decade, human smugglers -- or "coyotes," as they are also known -- have become more sophisticated and their work more profitable. They can sometimes command thousands of dollars from those who are desperate to enter the United States.
Increased efforts at border surveillance, along with new policies making it more difficult to cross the border, have not deterred smugglers, however. Rather, they have allowed them to charge would-be migrants even higher rates.
Unfortunately, legislation under consideration by Congress could increase the instances of organized smuggling, along with the profits to be made by unscrupulous smugglers.
In December, the House approved the Sensenbrenner bill, which, among other provisions, would build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
The wall, supporters say, would help keep out undocumented immigrants and terrorists. But this is good news to smugglers.
The Senate and other government officials must look at the reality of the border, the interdependence between both nations and the never-ending U.S. desire for cheap labor. They -- and we as a country -- must acknowledge that the inhumane anti-immigrant stance will not stop themovement of people across the border. It will only make it deadlier and more profitable for criminals.
It's easy for Americans who are frustrated by the economy and changing demographics to be pulled in by the anti-immigrant rhetoric of politicians and hate groups. Fear breeds more fear.
We must start looking at the reality of our relationship with Mexico. Both nations -- our histories, our economies and our governments -- are profoundly linked.
Building a wall is simply caving to fear. If we take a moral stand against smuggling, as we did in the Texas case, then we must also take a stand against the callousness that make these crimes more profitable.
Yolanda Chàvez Leyva is a historian specializing in Mexican-American and border history. She lives in Texas. She can bereached at firstname.lastname@example.org.