Death count rises with border restrictions
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...
Illegal border crossers face a deadlier trek than ever across Arizona's desert.
The risk of dying is 1.5 times higher today compared with five years ago and 17 times greater than in 1998, the Arizona Daily Star's border-death database shows.
That's a significant increase considering the initial spike of deaths in Arizona occurred in 2000-02.
Through the first seven months of fiscal year 2009, there were 60 known deaths per 100,000 apprehensions in the area covered in the U.S. Border Patrol's Tucson Sector. That's up from 39 known deaths per 100,000 apprehensions in 2004.
The increased risk of death parallels the historic buildup of agents, fences, roads and technology along the U.S.-Mexico border, calling into question one of the Border Patrol's mantras that a "secure border is a safe border."
Even with 3,300 agents, 210 miles of fences and vehicle barriers, and 40 agents assigned to the agency's search, rescue and trauma team, Borstar, illegal immigrants are still dying while trying to cross the Border Patrol's 262-mile-long Tucson Sector.
Border county law enforcement, Mexican Consulate officials, Tohono O'odham tribal officials and humanitarian groups say the buildup 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.
"We are pushing people into more deadly areas," said Kat Rodriguez, coordinating organizer for Coalición de Derechos Humanos, a Tucson-based group that tracks the deaths. "When enforcement goes up, death goes up. We've been saying that for years."
Santa Cruz County Sheriff Tony Estrada and Sgt. David Noland, the Cochise County Sheriff's Office search and rescue coordinator, say body recoveries in their counties show that people are trekking through increasingly remote areas.
The Border Patrol doesn't stop anyone from coming; it only shifts the locations where they cross, said Rev. Robin Hoover, president of Tucson-based Humane Borders. His group's maps show that bodies are being found farther away from principal roads and water sources each year.
"The presence of the Border Patrol makes the average migrant hungrier, thirstier, more tired and sicker," Hoover said.
Border Patrol officials point to their rescue efforts as evidence that their presence prevents deaths rather than causes them.
"Our presence is greater; we are getting to these people sooner," said Robert Boatright, deputy chief of the Border Patrol's Tucson Sector. The agency rescued 160 people through mid-May, compared with 151 at the same time last year.
He attributes the continued rise in deaths to better recovery methods and more thorough record-keeping.
"When somebody loses a loved one, a lot of times we're getting better information back and going back and finding those," Boatright said.
The agency concentrates its agents and rescue teams in the desert west of Sasabe, where most of the bodies are found, to move them out of the most dangerous areas, he said.
Continue reading this story by Brady McCombs in the Arizona Daily Star