Deaths along the US-Mexico border

From the Washington Post comes this article on the rise in border deaths.  Human rights organizations on both sides of the border agree on the trend, which they conservatively estimate at the rate of one a day.  This, despite the fact that immigration apprehensions have collapsed.  Less people are crossing the border “illegally” yet more of them are dying.

In the 15 years since the United States began beefing up patrols along the 2,000-mile border, deaths have occurred at a rate of one every 24 hours, the human rights report alleges. Citing Mexico’s foreign ministry and media sources, the rights groups say that at least 5,607 deaths occurred between 1994 and 2008.

According to the Department of Homeland Security, the Border Patrol has reported 4,111 deaths in border areas since 1998, not counting those reported first to local authorities.

Meanwhile, the number of people apprehended while crossing the border has dropped steeply. Border Patrol arrests for the year ending Sept. 30 are on track to drop about 23 percent, a precipitous decline that follows a 27 percent drop the year before. Through Aug. 31, the Border Patrol reported 519,394 apprehensions, the lowest number since the early 1970s, and less than half the 2005 level of 1.2 million.

Officials credit the decrease to the economic downturn and increased enforcement. The number of fatalities, however, is on pace to climb slightly this year. Hoffman said Customs and Border Protection is reporting 416 deaths in 2009 so far, compared with 390 last year, 398 in 2007, 454 in 2006 and 492 in 2005, the decade’s peak.

Human rights groups say that U.S. agencies typically undercount deaths because of inconsistent classification standards. The CNDH and ACLU report faults governments in both countries, with report author Maria Jiminez saying they lack standards and centralized means to identify, recover and prepare the dead for burial, determine cause of death, and notify next of kin.

This is a direct consequence of the US strategy to apply military strategies to border security, a practice which has reigned supreme since 1996.  By fortifying sections of high-traffic, they seek to create what officials call “low-intensity” zones–places where nature makes migration deadly due to heat exposure, lack of water, and rough terrain.  The result is more dead people.

This is a tragic reminder that immigration reform is an international human rights problem, not a regional or national issue of economics or politics.

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