Border insecurity

By Michelle Chen Apr 10, 2009

For all the talk of protecting the border, the news that more corpses are being found along US-Mexico divide is a tragic sign of how narrowly the government defines the cost of “border security.” The Border Patrol’s latest progress report shows the disturbing duality of border enforcement—more bodies, fewer arrests—and skewed benchmarks of “effectiveness.” The Associated Press reports:

The number of migrant deaths along the roughly 2,000-mile border increased by nearly 7 percent between Oct. 1, 2008, and March 31, 2009, though apprehensions of people crossing illegally from Mexico into Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California decreased in the same period from a year ago.

For reasons that are unclear (perhaps aggressive law enforcement, economic decline, or some combination), fewer people are becoming ensnared in the increasingly high-tech patrol efforts. Still, migrants continue to lose their lives as they attempt to cross into the land of opportunity while dodging authorities. Rev. Robin Hoover of the Arizona-based group Humane Borders said that desperation and growing safety risk is jeopardizing more lives: “they’re going around the fences, the technology and where the agents are… And the further you walk from a safe place, the more likely a broken ankle becomes a death sentence.” The news comes on the heels of endorsements from several border activist groups of President Obama’s move toward supposedly more humane, focused immigration and border policies. Some praise the administration for advocating a crackdown on violent criminals at the border rather than apprehending ordinary migrants. At the same time, the Border Network for Human Rights cautions against rampant militarization in a policy report: “we need to stop treating the immigrant as the greatest threat, focusing instead on dangerous criminals, traffickers, and exploiters in border and immigrant communities.” Every new death discovered in the desert reveals how far the government is from a border system that does less harm than good. Reallocating enforcement resources is just one piece of building a border policy that respects life. Image: Pat Shannahan / The Arizona Republic