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| Wednesday, February 17, 2016

The cooler opened and the pungent smell immediately hit our noses. Before our eyes were dozens of dead bodies, most of them labeled John and Jane Doe. Migrant deaths at the U.S.-Mexico border are flooding the Pima County medical examiner’s office with hundreds of migrant remains each year. As a result, the office has been forced to expand its storage facilities by introducing outdoor coolers and trucks.

U.S. border enforcement and immigration policies are a huge part of the explanation for all these deaths.

In post-9/11 America, the conversation about strengthening the border is often framed in terms of national security. However, the U.S. has been tightening its border since around a decade before those terrorist attacks. Beginning in the 1990s with Operation Hold the Line in El Paso and Operation Gatekeeper in San Diego, the U.S. government has continuously tightened and militarized its border with Mexico by closing off urban ports of entry, building more walls and installing lighting systems and motion-sensor cameras.

This border enforcement strategy, known as Prevention Through Deterrence, has funneled undocumented migration toward remote border regions such as the Sonoran Desert of Arizona, where Border Patrol has a hard time surveilling the land but crossing conditions are most treacherous.

The Prevention Through Deterrence policy did not have death in mind when it was initially enacted in the early 1990s. Officials banked on the idea that very few would dare to attempt crossing into the U.S. through the most remote, hot and dry regions of the borderlands.

However, the push-and-pull factors of migration are driving migrants to embark on this grave trek, where people are dying by the hundreds. The government has failed to respond adequately to these deaths, as they have continued to maintain the walls and border enforcement policies that drive migrants into these perilous regions, adding more and more people to the border’s body count.

When we as a country know hundreds of people die at the border each year, it is unacceptable to continue to support policies that directly allow for this to happen. This is a non-negotiable problem that should unite people and parties of differing opinions, rather than being avoided and ignored as it has continued to be. Unnecessary and inhumane death in the desert is a reality for which no policy, politician or person should support or condone.

There are many strategies for border control being discussed at this time in our country, especially by the candidates in the presidential race: issue a larger number of visas, deport those who stay longer than their visas permit, increase the funding and force of the U.S. Border Patrol, build a wall that migrants cannot get through (even though the former Arizona governor and former Secretary of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, has said, “You show me a 50-foot wall, and I’ll show you a 51-foot ladder” in reference to the inability of a wall to keep migrants from coming into this country).

What must come first in the minds of those reforming border security policies is the migrant and his or her risk of death in the desert. We need to get rid of policies that directly lead to migrant deaths and replace them with action and law that treat migrants as human beings. No man, woman or child should die at the border.

Victor Benavides

Katrina Linden

Tyler McGehee

The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.


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Letters to the Editor can be submitted by all members of the Notre Dame community. To submit a letter to the Viewpoint Editor, email viewpoint@ndsmcobserver.com

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  • Marisel Moreno

    Another great letter! Victor, Katrina, and Tyler, thank you for taking the time to write it and bring attention to the human rights crisis taking place at the border.

  • Johnny Whichard

    So do any of you actually a real solution other than an open border?

    • Andrew Martin

      We don’t have a specific solution for immigration policy other than finding a more humane way to deal with the influx of these migrants. I personally believe making work permits much more plentiful and easily accessible or removing/adjusting the quota on Latino immigrants so more can enter would be the best solution, that way more people can enter through legal means.

      • Jackie Zink

        I agree with Andrew and also support a policy that addresses the root causes of migration – violence and economic instability in Mexico and Central America, that the U.S. may be responsible for in part. Optimistically, there is a way to generate economic growth abroad so that migrants don’t think their only chance at a healthy lifestyle and wellbeing is by crossing the treacherous geography of our borderlands or waiting 20+ years for a visa.

        • Punta Venyage

          Yes, there are well-intentioned people illegally crossing the border.
          There is also an influx of dangerous criminals, notable examples including the MS-13 and 18th street gangs.
          How do we handle this issue as well? Or is it okay to allow crime to enter our country unmitigated as long as we provide opportunities of refuge for others.

          Furthermore, do we have excess wealth to support the influx of unmitigated migrants? If so, where is it?

          Are you aware that the Mexican government is actually publishing pamphlets encouraging and providing instructions for people to illegally cross the border?

          Why do you think they do this? Do you think it could be the fact that remittance payments (money sent back to one’s original country) are the LARGEST source of foreign exchange revenue for Mexico – now surpassing their oil exports?

          I understand that these are tough times, but we must think beyond the knee-jerk emotions of “people are dying- this is unacceptable!”