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Lecture analyzes border deaths

Alicia Smith | Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Death is a powerful and interesting thing, according to Lawrence Taylor, vice president of international affairs and professor of anthropology at the National University of Ireland.

Taylor gave a lecture titled “Death in the Desert: Conflicting Moral Geographies on the U.S. Mexico Border” Monday at the Vander Vennett Theatre in the Saint Mary’s Student Center.

Taylor said death is often used as an event to promote certain ideas to bring about change.

In his lecture, Taylor discussed two such examples in which death encouraged new legislation pertaining to the U.S. Mexico border.

The first event was the death of 14 people who were lost in the desert in an attempt to cross the U.S.-Mexico border in May 2001.

“All you have to do is get lost, and that’s what happened,” he said. “These were people entering the United States without papers.”

Taylor said an inexperienced smuggler was leading the immigrants, believed he saw the headlights of a border patrol car and led them off course.

The second event Taylor discussed was the death of Kris Eggle, a U.S. park ranger who was killed in August 2002 while in pursuit of a Mexican hitman who had crossed the border to escape the Mexican police.

“Park rangers in this part of the world are very often trained in enforcement,” he said. “The enforcement that they’re looking for is not somebody who is lighting illegal campfires, but drug smugglers.”

According to Taylor, different groups involved in border issues used these deaths in an attempt to gain support for their causes. One such group was Humane Borders, an activist group that places water tanks in various locations in the desert so immigrants who cross the border do not die of thirst. A rival group, Taylor said, is the Minutemen, seeks better border patrol to prevent immigrants from entering the United States.

Taylor said Humane Borders attempted to use the 14 deaths as a way to gain permission to make water tanks available in the desert.

“With the 14 who died … a group of local activists, including some attorneys, who are pro-immigrant, decided to sue the Department of the Interior for the deaths,” he said. “The argument for that was that Humane Borders, had previous to the deaths by about a month, a month and a half, had gone to the … refuge people who directly control that, and asked for permission to put water tanks out, and were turned down.”

According to Taylor, this tactic was unsuccessful in its attempt to gain support for the pro-immigrant cause.

With the other death event, Taylor said Eggle’s parents visited the border and spoke with a number of anti-immigration groups. The story gained media attention, and eventually, legislation was passed to pay for a Kris Eggle Memorial Fence, which would be erected on the border.

“Some people say ‘I now know or believe my child died for a purpose,’ and that purpose is often legislative,” he said.