Our VoiceImmigration

Anti-immigrant Laws Are Anti-human

MJ Olahafa • Sep 17, 2010

Over 60 deaths in U.S. border deserts in July 2010. The number almost rivals that of US troop deaths in Afghanistan for the same month, 66, the deadliest month of a nine-year long war. The number of deaths along the border since 2001, 1,650, has eclipsed the number of US troop deaths in Afghanistan, 1,200, over the same period of time.

These numbers do not pertain to animals, but to humans; mostly migrant workers crossing into the United States from south of the border. So far this year, over 170 bodies have been recovered in Arizona’s Pima County, the deadliest stretch of the US/Mexico border. This is the second highest number on record, after 218 deaths recorded a mere three years ago in the same area.

According to Pima County’s Medical Examiner’s office, the vast majority of these deaths are heat related. Murders account for less than one percent of the deaths along the border. The claim by the anti-immigrant movement, that drug cartels are transforming the border into a war zone, shooting everyone in sight and then bringing that violence into the US, is false. People are dying because it is physically impossible for each person to carry the amount of water needed for the journey. They inevitably run out, and people get left behind. Those who make it often suffer heat related injuries to their kidneys, heart and other body parts, some of which are irreversible.

This is not an immigration issue; it is a human rights issue.

And yet, when human rights organizations try to prevent these deaths and suffering, they get in trouble with the law. No More Deaths is one such organization. In 2008, when Daniel Millis, a volunteer at the time, was leaving bottles of drinking water along popular migration trails, he was arrested and charged with littering.

His true crime: giving water to people dying of thirst.

Earlier this month, his conviction was overturned on appeal. But that’s not the end of the struggles for No More Deaths. Because over 40% of the land along the border is protected public land, these humanitarian activists can still be given a littering ticket by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officers who claim these water bottles clutter the refuge and pose a danger to wildlife. This, despite the fact that No More Death volunteers always go back on the migrant trails and collect the empty and discarded bottles.

Another cause for outrage in the anti-immigrant movement is the Transborder Immigrant Tool [TBT]. It is an application downloaded into an inexpensive Motorola cell phone which gives migrants factual desert-survival skills and tells them the closest source of water for emergencies. This device does not have a GPS system to help them navigate through the desert nor does it give them the indication of migrant trails. And yet it has been denounced again and again as violating immigration laws.

Make no mistake; the Arizona desert is harsh, unforgiving, and deadly. The government took an informed decision to push migrants through more severe climates and dangerous terrains in an attempt to deter immigration. The outcome of these policies was a huge spike in the number of deaths along the 2000 mile southern border, from 50 in the 1990s to 492 in 2005 [the deadliest year], and 422 last year. Even so, Arizona with its 389 miles of border, accounts for a highly disproportionate number of the reported migrant deaths every year.

This is the plight of the migrant workers crossing into the United States from south of the border. It is the fate of those who have had no other choice but to leave behind their families and everything that is dear to their hearts in search of a better life, having only one thing in mind: survival.

Lest we forget that they too are human.

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