More Immigrants Dying in the Desert and the Band Plays On

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The Big Bend Sentinel has been reporting for some time that the U.S. government plans to ship 700 men a week to the international bridge in Presidio. The Mexican men ages 20 to 60 are being bused from Tucson, Arizona, to the tiny Big Bend border town to “remove the aliens from the smuggling pipeline,” according to Marfa Sector Chief Patrol Agent John Smeitana. The program began November 1. Governor Rick Perry apparently received his telegram a little too late. He sent a letter to Homeland Security on October 31 “expressing his deepest concern” with DHS’ new program. “Turning the Presidio area into a way station for the repatriation of illegal immigrants adds responsibility to local authorities and holds the potential of increasing the strain on local and state infrastructure and resources,” Perry wrote.It also puts a huge strain on impoverished immigrants and will undoubtedly result in more deaths in the Big Bend region. Isabel Garcia, a lawyer in Tucson and co-chair of the nonprofit immigrant rights group Derechos Humanos, says the deportations in Presidio will only put more poor people’s lives in danger.”It’s very maddening to me,” Garcia says. “They are treating immigrants like international criminals without looking at the root causes of the immigration such as abject poverty.”Garcia pointed out that her hometown of Tucson was not a hotbed of illegal immigration until Homeland Security cracked down on other regions of the border pushing immigrants into more dangerous desert crossings. Since 2004, 1,193 people have died in the Arizona desert according to a database run by the Arizona Daily Star. ”These are 15-year old boys, 19-year old girls many of them are desconocidos and will never be identified,” Garcia says. They also saw the number of smuggling operations increase as more people tried to cross the perilous Sonoran desert. Garcia predicts that something similar could occur in Ojinaga, the Mexican town that borders Presidio.”They didn’t sell their homes, borrow money and make the treacherous journey north just to go back,” Garcia says.The ACLU reports in a new study that more than 5,000 people have died since Operation Gatekeeper began in 1994 pushing immigrants into more rural and dangerous border crossings.This is a truly shocking number that illustrates what a terrible humanitarian crisis we have on the U.S.-Mexico border. A crisis that only seems to worsen as both Mexico and the United States ignore the underlying causes of illegal immigration.

Melissa del Bosque joined The Texas Observer staff in 2008. She specializes in reporting on immigration and the U.S.-Mexico border. Her work has been published in national and international publications including TIME magazine and the Mexico City-based Nexos magazine. She has a master’s in public health from Texas A&M University and a master’s in journalism from the University of Texas at Austin.