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I don't want to go on being just a root in the shadows,
vacillating, extended, shivering with dream,
down in the damp bowels of earth,
absorbing it, thinking it, eating it every day.

-Pablo Neruda from 'Walking Around'

Border issues in the news...

Arizona-inspired immigration bills lose momentum in other states

As state legislatures convene this month, lawmakers across the country who had vowed to copy Arizona's strict measure cracking down on illegal immigrants are facing a new reality.

State budget deficits, coupled with the political backlash triggered by Arizona's law and potentially expensive legal challenges from the federal government, have made passage of such statutes uncertain.

In the nine months since the Arizona measure was signed into law, a number of similar bills have stalled or died or are being reworked. Some have faced resistance from law enforcement officials who question how states or communities could afford the added cost of enforcing the laws.

And some state legislators have backed away from the most controversial parts of the Arizona law, which have been challenged in court by the federal government and others. A federal judge has put on hold some of its provisions, including those that would allow police to check immigration status if they stop someone while enforcing other laws, allow for warrantless arrests of suspected illegal immigrants and criminalize the failure of immigrants to carry registration papers. The case is awaiting a ruling before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit.

"Obviously most places were not going to pass Arizona bills," said Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, which advocates tighter immigration laws. "There's always an initial flush of enthusiasm and then the reality of politics sets in. . . . These states are bankrupt - they need to decide what battles they want to fight."

Continue reading this article by Lois Romano in the Washington Post

Illegal Immigrant Deaths Set Record In Arizona

Authorities have discovered 252 bodies in the Arizona desert over the past year — the remains of migrants who died trying to cross into the U.S. illegally. That's a record, but overall the Border Patrol says the number of people crossing illegally is down. So, why the increase in the number of bodies?

In recent years, the U.S. government has built a border fence, improved technology and hired thousands more Border Patrol agents.

That has helped reduce the number of people caught crossing illegally, but it has also pushed crossers into more remote and dangerous places to avoid detection — places where sore feet or a broken ankle can mean death from dehydration or exposure.

When those bodies are discovered, most of them go to the Pima County Medical Examiner's Office, headed by Bruce Parks. His office had to find temporary space to store bodies this summer, but Parks says not all of the deaths are recent.

"We're getting more skeletal remains," Parks says. "There's greater presence out there by the Border Patrol and whoever, and they're finding more people who've been out there for awhile."

The Border Patrol also reports a record number of rescues since last October.

Agent Mario Escalante blames the increases on human smugglers who lure naive crossers into dangerous situations.

"They weren't told that they were going to have to walk for days. They weren't told that they were going to have to go over mountain ranges. They weren't told that they were going to have to sleep in the hot desert or maybe the cold desert," Escalante says.

A large number of bodies — especially skeletal remains — are difficult to identify.

On Tuesday, the Mexican and U.S. governments agreed to share DNA databases to help identify remains and return them to their families.

Mexican Consul Juan Manuel Calderon Jaimes says his government needs to do a better job of warning potential illegal immigrants of the dangers of crossing the desert. He also says the solution to the problem is changing U.S. immigration law so more people can enter legally.

"The immigration reform is going to lead to a law that people can come to the United States with the proper documents to work or to visit," he says.

By Ted Robbins, NPR

Nearly 1,700 bodies, each one a mystery

Arizona's border is a desert of death.

Nearly 2,000 men, women and children have died trying to cross the border illegally in the past decade - not counting the bodies still out there, waiting to be discovered.

A decrease in illegal crossings over the past six years hasn't slowed the deaths, steady at about 200 annually. This year could be the worst yet.

The deaths surged after a mid-1990s security push beefed up enforcement in Texas and California. Authorities expected Southern Arizona's harsh desert and deadly heat to be a natural deterrent from crossing.
It wasn't.

Arizona became the busiest stretch of the border, and a massive buildup of agents, fences and technology followed. That prompted smugglers to lead crossers through ever-more-remote terrain to avoid detection, making the trek more deadly.

Most bodies end up here, at the Pima County Medical Examiner's Office. The onslaught has transformed the jobs of the forensic-science staff, especially during the scorching summer months when illegal border crossers are found dead almost daily. The office has handled 1,700 bodies in the past decade - 81 this past June and July.
Border crossers make up about 20 percent of the exams done in this office that serves a county of more than 1 million people. But especially in summer, they take up a big chunk of the staff's time. Field agents drive for hours to pick up bodies in remote reaches of the desert. Investigators take fingerprints, snap photos and coordinate with law enforcement and foreign consulates.

It's difficult - and harrowing - work because people found dead in the desert are often robbed of all distinguishing features by searing sunshine and scavenging animals. On top of that, Mexican border crossers commonly die without identification - smugglers tell them not to carry it. And illegal crossers from other countries often carry fake Mexican IDs so if caught they'll be deported just across the border to Nogales, where they can try again.

Continue reading the story by Brady McCombs in the Arizona Daily Star.

Extensive additional coverage can be found here: A Decade of Death.

An Arizona Morgue Grows Crowded

TUCSON — Dr. Bruce Parks unzips a white body bag on a steel gurney and gingerly lifts out a human skull and mandible, turning them over in his hands and examining the few teeth still in their sockets.

The body bag, coated with dust, also contains a broken pelvis, a femur and a few smaller bones found in the desert in June, along with a pair of white sneakers.

“These are people who are probably not going to be identified,” said Dr. Parks, the chief medical examiner for Pima County. There are eight other body bags crowded on the gurney.

The Pima County morgue is running out of space as the number of Latin American immigrants found dead in the deserts around Tucson has soared this year during a heat wave.

The rise in deaths comes as Arizona is embroiled in a bitter legal battle over a new law intended to discourage illegal immigrants from settling here by making it a state crime for them to live or seek work.

But the law has not kept the immigrants from trying to cross hundreds of miles of desert on foot in record-breaking heat. The bodies of 57 border crossers have been brought in during July so far, putting it on track to be the worst month for such deaths in the last five years.

Since the first of the year, more than 150 people suspected of being illegal immigrants have been found dead, well above the 107 discovered during the same period in each of the last two years. The sudden spike in deaths has overwhelmed investigators and pathologists at the Pima County Medical Examiner’s Office. Two weeks ago, Dr. Parks was forced to bring in a refrigerated truck to store the remains of two dozen people because the building’s two units were full.

“We can store about 200 full-sized individuals, but we have over 300 people here now, and most of those are border crossers,” Dr. Parks said. “We keep hoping we have seen the worst of this, of these migration deaths. Yet we still see a lot of remains.”

The increase in deaths has happened despite many signs that the number of immigrants crossing the border illegally has dropped in recent years. The number of people caught trying to sneak across the frontier without a visa has fallen in each of the last five years and stands at about half of the record 616,000 arrested in 2000.

Not only has the economic downturn in the United States eliminated many of the jobs that used to lure immigrants, human rights groups say, but also the federal government has stepped up efforts to stop the underground railroad of migrants, building mammoth fences in several border towns and flooding the region with hundreds of new Border Patrol agents equipped with high-tech surveillance tools.

These tougher enforcement measures have pushed smugglers and illegal immigrants to take their chances on isolated trails through the deserts and mountains of southern Arizona, where they must sometimes walk for three or four days before reaching a road.

“As we gain more control, the smugglers are taking people out to even more remote areas,” said Omar Candelaria, the special operations supervisor for the Border Patrol’s Tucson Sector. “They have further to walk and they are less prepared for the journey, and they don’t make it.”

Continue reading this article by JAMES C. McKINLEY Jr. in the NY Times.

July migrant deaths could set record

llegal border crossers are dying at record rates this month.

Since July 1, the Pima County Medical Examiner's Office has handled the bodies of 38 illegal border crossers, said Dr. Bruce Parks, chief medical examiner. That midmonth total puts July on pace to match or break the single-month record of 68 in July 2005.

"I never thought we would see that again," Parks said. "It's scary. Maybe the rain will slow these down."
Parks said his office has been picking up and examining between one and four bodies of illegal immigrants daily since the beginning of the month. Field agents were on their way to pick up four more bodies Thursday, he said. Most of the people are being found recently deceased.

The deadly month puts 2010 even further ahead of the pace from the past three years. From Jan. 1 to July 15, the office has handled 132 bodies of illegal border crossers, up from 93 at the same time last year and 102 in 2008.

It's been a deadly decade for illegal immigrants trying to cross through Arizona. The bodies of more than 1,750 men, women and children have been discovered since 2001 - about 175 a year.

The Pima County Medical Examiner's Office has handled about 1,600 of them.

The fact that the deaths continue at such high numbers despite widespread indications that fewer people are crossing the border has led many experts to conclude that illegal border crossers face a deadlier trek than ever across Arizona's desert.

Apprehensions in the Border Patrol's Tucson Sector have decreased each of the past five years; remittances to
Mexico have declined and anecdotal reports show the economic recession has slowed illegal immigration. Yet more people are dying than ever.

Border-county law enforcement, Mexican consular officials, Tohono O'odham tribal officials and humanitarian groups say the buildup of border fencing, technology and agents has caused illegal border crossers to walk longer distances in more treacherous terrain, increasing the likelihood that people will get hurt or fatigued and left behind to die.

The Border Patrol disagrees that it's pushing illegal immigrants into more hazardous terrain and points to its rescue efforts as evidence that its presence prevents deaths rather than causes them.

Article by Brady McComb in Arizona Daily Star

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