FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

No More Walls, No More Deaths

by JOSEPH NEVINS

 

On Sunday, June 4, about two hundred people filed by individuals wailing over what appeared to be corpses in front of the U.S. Border Patrol’s sector headquarters in Tucson, Arizona. The march and the guerrilla theater-a “die-in”-were the culmination of a seven-day, 75-mile trek from Sasabe, Sonora, a small Mexican border town and a major staging area for migrants clandestinely entering the United States.

The march, known as the Migrant Trail, took place for the third consecutive year. Sponsored by variety of border and migrant rights, humanitarian, and religious groups-including the Tucson-based Derechos Humanos/Alianza Indígena, No More Deaths, Borderlinks, the Christian Peacemaker Team, and Witness for Peace-it seeks to bring critical attention to the growing death toll along the U.S.-Mexico boundary and the fundamentally flawed border and immigration policies that make the fatalities inevitable.

More than 3,800 migrants have lost their lives since 1995 while trying to cross from Mexico into the United States. The estimate is conservative in that it only includes confirmed deaths. Many more bodies are never found. As such, the grim toll is surely much higher.

The deaths peak during the summer months. And the summer started early this year in southern Arizona, the epicenter of the borderlands’ killing fields. In mid-May, a three-year-old boy, David Rodriguez Reyes, died in the desert in his mother’s arms. Twelve more migrant bodies would be discovered in Arizona before the end of the month.

The fatalities, on the rare occasion that they are discussed in Washington and the halls of power, are either treated as a public relations problem or cynically used to justify more of the very policies-such as the boundary build-up-that contribute to the death toll. Representative Duncan Hunter, a Republican from the San Diego area and the individual most responsible for the walls and fences that increasingly litter the border landscape, argued to Bush administration officials in May, for example, that more barriers are a good way to prevent deaths. “If you can save lives by fencing the desert, why not fence the desert?” he asked.

But it is the call for “security” that most typically underlies support for more walls and fences along the U.S.-Mexico divide. Congressman Tom Tancredo (R-Colorado), for instance, stated in February that “Yes, many who come across the [U.S.-Mexico] border are workers. But among them are people coming to kill you and me and your children.”

Although few are as hysterical as Tancredo, the basic assumptions regarding boundary and immigration enforcement are shared by most Democrats and Republicans, resulting in a stale congressional and national debate and a narrow set of policy options. While the infamous Sensenbrenner bill (HR 4437) requires 700 miles of additional walls and fences, the alternative offered by the Senate calls for 370 miles of triple fencing and 500 miles of barriers to block vehicles. It would also add another 14,000 agents to the Border Patrol by 2011, more than doubling the agency’s current size. It is on this basis that advocates of “reform” hope that some sort of compromise will be achieved between the House and Senate.

In this impoverished context, the plan offered by the Bush White House (one that combines legalization of status for most, but not all, of the undocumented population with far greater repression along and within the country’s boundaries, and one largely mirrored by the Senate bill) has become the “reasonable” standard. At a forum on international human rights workers in late May, former president Jimmy Carter called Bush’s approach, one that includes the deployment of 6,000 National Guard troops to the border region, “quite admirable.” A few days earlier, Bill Clinton, while speaking to a Las Vegas convention of shopping mall developers, stated that Bush was doing a “good job” on the matter.

In speaking as he did, Bill Clinton was being true to form. It was his administration that launched the massive boundary build-up that now scars the borderlands, and enacted the legislation that has resulted in a massive increase of deportations (over one million since 1996). He was also playing the role of a supportive husband.

Presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton, who, in late-March, characterized the Sensenbrenner bill as both “un-American” and “un-Christian,” has positioned herself as a border hawk. In late-April-only two-weeks after attending a huge immigrant rights march in New York City at which she seemed to wholeheartedly embrace the marcher’s goals-she called for additional border walls “in certain places” along with high-tech “smart fencing,” while suggesting that Israel’s wall might serve as a potential model. “A country that cannot control its borders is failing at one of its fundamental obligations,” she explained.

Meanwhile, the death toll in southern Arizona and throughout the border region continues to rise, and will surely do so for the foreseeable future as migrants are pushed into increasingly risky routes. During the Migrant Trail walk across the desert, the media reported the deaths of one male migrant in Arizona, and of two men in New Mexico to where some migrant traffic has gone in response to the build-up in Arizona. Another six died this past weekend in Arizona. More undoubtedly died beyond the view of the media.

There have been so many migrant deaths in Arizona of late that Pima County’s medical examiner’s morgue in Tucson is overflowing. It still contains bodies from last summer as the examiner struggles to identify the corpses. As a result, the county has rented a refrigerated trailer to store bodies and is now in the process of building a new cool room for 300 bodies, almost doubling the morgue’s current capacity.

To stop this carnage and the underlying injustices will require much more political conviction and imagination than is now on offer in Washington. Only by stepping outside the hyper-nationalist, Democrat-Republican box-one also generally supportive of neoliberal policies abroad that exacerbate the conditions that lead to out-migration-can we begin to bring about a world in which migrant deaths are a phenomenon of the past. This requires, among other things, that all people have a basic right to international mobility and residence.

JOSEPH NEVINS is an assistant professor of geography at Vassar College. He is the author of Operation Gatekeeper: The Rise of the “Illegal Alien” and the Making of the U.S.-Mexico Boundary (Routledge, 2002) and, most recently, A Not-so-distant Horror: Mass Violence in East Timor (Cornell University Press, 2005). His email is jonevins@vassar.edu.

 

 

 

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
April 28, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Slandering Populism: a Chilling Media Habit
Andrew Levine
Why I Fear and Loathe Trump Even More Now Than On Election Day
Jeffrey St. Clair
Mountain of Tears: the Vanishing Glaciers of the Pacific Northwest
Philippe Marlière
The Neoliberal or the Fascist? What Should French Progressives Do?
Conn Hallinan
America’s New Nuclear Missile Endangers the World
Peter Linebaugh
Omnia Sunt Communia: May Day 2017
Vijay Prashad
Reckless in the White House
Brian Cloughley
Who Benefits From Prolonged Warfare?
Kathy Kelly
The Shame of Killing Innocent People
Ron Jacobs
Hate Speech as Free Speech: How Does That Work, Exactly?
Andre Vltchek
Middle Eastern Surgeon Speaks About “Ecology of War”
Matt Rubenstein
Which Witch Hunt? Liberal Disanalogies
Sami Awad - Yoav Litvin - Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb
Never Give Up: Nonviolent Civilian Resistance, Healing and Active Hope in the Holyland
Pete Dolack
Tribunal Finds Monsanto an Abuser of Human Rights and Environment
Christopher Ketcham
The Coyote Hunt
Mike Whitney
Putin’s New World Order
Ramzy Baroud
Palestinian, Jewish Voices Must Jointly Challenge Israel’s Past
Ralph Nader
Trump’s 100 Days of Rage and Rapacity
Harvey Wasserman
Marine Le Pen Is a Fascist—Not a ‘Right-Wing Populist,’ Which Is a Contradiction in Terms
William Hawes
World War Whatever
John Stanton
War With North Korea: No Joke
Jim Goodman
NAFTA Needs to be Replaced, Not Renegotiated
Murray Dobbin
What is the Antidote to Trumpism?
Louis Proyect
Left Power in an Age of Capitalist Decay
Medea Benjamin
Women Beware: Saudi Arabia Charged with Shaping Global Standards for Women’s Equality
Rev. William Alberts
Selling Spiritual Care
Peter Lee
Invasion of the Pretty People, Kamala Harris Edition
Cal Winslow
A Special Obscenity: “Guernica” Today
Binoy Kampmark
Turkey’s Kurdish Agenda
Guillermo R. Gil
The Senator Visits Río Piedras
Jeff Mackler
Mumia Abu-Jamal Fights for a New Trial and Freedom 
Cesar Chelala
The Responsibility of Rich Countries in Yemen’s Crisis
Leslie Watson Malachi
Women’s Health is on the Chopping Block, Again
Basav Sen
The Coal Industry is a Job Killer
Judith Bello
Rojava, a Popular Imperial Project
Robert Koehler
A Public Plan for Peace
Sam Pizzigati
The Insider Who Blew the Whistle on Corporate Greed
Jesse Jackson
Jeff Sessions is Rolling Back Basic Rights
Nyla Ali Khan
There Has to be a Way Out of the Labyrinth
Rivera Sun
Blind Slogans and Shallow Greatness
Michael J. Sainato
Trump Scales Back Antiquities Act, Which Helped to Create National Parks
Stu Harrison
Under Duterte, Filipino Youth Struggle for Real Change
Martin Billheimer
Balm for Goat’s Milk
Stephen Martin
Spooky Cookies and Algorithmic Steps Dystopian
Michael Doliner
Thank You Note
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail