A record number of migrants are dying as they try to cross through the treacherous border regions to get into the United States. The Los Angeles Times reports that at least 170 people have died along the border in 2010, far surpassing previous years’ death tolls.
Fifty-nine people’s remains were found along the border in just the month of July–and those are just the official numbers. The LA Times reports that the most common cause of death is heat-related illness.
The deaths underscore a point immigration rights advocates have repeated for decades: building a wall will not stop people from trying to get into the country. Neither will sending thousands of people to patrol the border. People will come because global economic forces that are bigger than them compel people to leave their homes and families to seek work and a different future. And yet, that hasn’t stopped the Obama administration from pushing for hundreds of millions of dollars for ramped up border militarization and thousands more National Guard and Border Patrol agents.
In July, the New York Times reported that the coroner’s office in Pima County had dealt with 1,050 migrant deaths since 2000.
It’s a statistic that U.S. politicians are directly responsible for. The Clinton-administration-initiated Operation Gatekeeper funneled Border Patrol agents and enforcement dollars to the most-trafficked urban entry points like San Diego in California and El Paso in Texas. Miles of walls were built, thousands of guards were stationed closely along the border and these cities became impassable, which forced migrants to harsher conditions in the Arizona desert to try to enter the country. Today, most of the border deaths occur in the remote Arizona deserts of Pima County, where migrants face the risk of flash floods and heatstroke and endure 100-degree daytime temperatures and freezing nights.
Since the 1990s, the Bush and Obama administrations have continued to throw piles more money to sustain the U.S. military presence at the border, and even taken to prosecuting humanitarian aid groups who try to leave water and provide medical treatment to border crossers. And still the death count ticks steadily upward.
The LA Times notes a seemingly paradoxical statistic:
Oddly, although the number of deaths is on the rise, illegal immigration is down. Apprehensions at the border have dropped 61% in the last fiscal year, compared with 2000. This year, 194,000 people have been apprehended, down 5% from the same time last year.
But don’t expect the ranks of border enforcement cheerleaders in the Obama administration and Congress to speak up about this spate of border deaths anytime soon. Fictitious beheadings, inflated reports of narco-crime and home invasions are easy to shout about. On this issue, they remain silent.