U.S. immigration policy invites border deaths
August 15, 2001
It is not often the U.S. government admits failure. It is even less often that it assumes responsibility for human-rights violations.
But both occurred earlier this month when Congress released a report that criticizes the enforcement of U.S. immigration policy along the U.S.-Mexico border. The General Accounting Office (GAO), an investigative arm of Congress, revealed the deadly effects of U.S. immigration strategy.
From 1994 until 1997, more than 1,013 immigrants have died while trying to enter the United States from Mexico, the report says. It also says that the number of deaths could be much higher since they sometimes are not reported or because bodies are not always found. A nonprofit, immigrants'-rights group, StopGatekeeper.org, estimates the death toll from 1994 until now at 1,500.
During this period, the U.S. government escalated its efforts to control illegal immigration into the United States via Mexico with a series of militaristic operations along the more than 2,000-mile border.
"There is no clear indication that overall illegal entry into the United States along the Southwest border has declined," the congressional report says. "The strategy has resulted in an increase in deaths from exposure to either heat or cold."
For years, immigrants'-rights and human-rights groups have attributed the deaths to a misguided U.S. immigration policy that neither adequately addresses the root causes of illegal immigration nor the human-rights needs of newcomers.
The Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) has cracked down on illegal immigration at popular sites along the southern borders of California, Arizona and Texas.
But this has just forced people to cross in more dangerous rural areas.
Here immigrants are more vulnerable to abandonment by their smugglers, and more susceptible to robbery and rape by criminals who ambush them as they cross the border. The intense heat of some of these remote desert crossings also can be fatal.
The congressional report makes it clear that U.S. immigration policy must be changed.
No wall, fence, mountain or desert can stop people in search of a better life for themselves and their families.
U.S. policy ought to recognize that fact. We must not allow more immigrants to pay with their lives for trying to get here.
Xiomara Castro is Salvadoran-American and a coordinator for the California Human Rights Program at the international human-rights organization, Global Exchange (www.globalexchange.org), which is based in San Francisco. She can be reached at email@example.com.