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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...

Border Patrol finds bones near Sasabe

U.S. Border Patrol agents discovered human skeletal remains east of Sasabe on Friday.

Agents found the remains while patrolling on foot at about 5 p.m, said Omar Candelaria, a U.S. Border Patrol Tucson Sector spokesman.

They found a skull, femur and other assorted bones but were unable to determine the gender of the person by the remains found, Candelaria said.

As reported in the Arizona Daily Star

Don't Pity the Poor Immigrants Fight Alongside Them

Reviewed: David Bacon, Illegal People: How Globalization Creates Migration and Criminalizes Immigrants (Boston: Beacon Press, 2008), 261 pages, $25.95, hardcover.

In this compelling and useful book, David Bacon lays to rest the anti-immigration arguments of the xenophobes and racists who bombard us every day in the press, on television, and on radio talk shows with the vicious assertion that immigrants, mainly those from Latin America, are the cause of all our economic and social problems.

I will get to Bacon’s arguments shortly, but what makes the book especially good is its interweaving of analysis and individual immigrant biographies. When CNN’s premier immigrant basher, Lou Dobbs, refers every evening to “illegal aliens,” he intentionally depersonalizes them and makes it easier for his audience to accept his demonization of what are, as Bacon indelibly shows us, ordinary and often heroic human beings. Consider these immigrants whose stories Bacon reveals:

Luz Dominguez is a Mexican woman. She came to the United States because she couldn’t support her family in Mexico City. She does backbreaking work cleaning rooms in a California hotel. Her father, after a lifetime of construction labor in Mexico, has come to live with her. She sends money back home so her daughter can attend college. She is undocumented, not through choice but because it is not possible for a person such as herself, an unskilled Mexican woman, to obtain the necessary documents. The United States imposes strict and extremely meager quotas on such potential immigrants. She has been a good citizen in the United States. She works hard, pays her bills, pays taxes, even puts money in a social security account from which she will never be able to withdraw money. The fact that she has a Social Security number but is an undocumented immigrant constitutes, according to the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), “identity fraud.” She could be deported or sent to prison for this. But as Bacon tells us, “There is no evidence to suggest that the genuine holder of a Social Security number is harmed when someone else uses that number on the job. After all, an employer will be depositing extra money into the true cardholder’s account, and the worker using the incorrect number will never be able to collect the benefits those earnings accrue.” If the number does not belong to anyone, the money deposited in this new account will just go into the Social Security fund. So, ironically, undocumented immigrants are subsidizing the social security system, to the benefit of all of us, including Lou Dobbs.

Juan Gonzalez was a copper miner in Cananea, just seventy miles south of Arizona. Copper mining has a long history in Mexico. The first mines were owned by U.S. companies, but the Mexican government took majority control in the early 1970s. Like all mining, copper production is dangerous work, and the miners struggled long and hard to form unions to protect themselves and secure higher wages. They faced extreme repression, but often in concert with miners in the United States (many of whom are Mexican), they managed to secure some victories. As one miner put it, “When we have problems, there are no borders. We all have to work to survive.”

However, when neoliberalism raised its ugly head in the late 1980s, Mexico’s national industries were placed on the chopping block, sold to wealthy private interests at bargain basement prices. The new owners were Mexican, but they had deep connections with large U.S. corporations, and it was the U.S. government, in league with these same businesses, that had pressured Mexico and scores of other poor countries to introduce the “free market” reforms that are the hallmarks of neoliberalism: cut government social spending, slash employment, privatize national enterprises and public services, attract foreign capital with tax and other concessions, make unionization difficult, and so forth.

Continue reading this review by Michael D. Yates at Monthly Review.

Death count rises with border restrictions

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

Arrests down, but deaths of illegal immigrants in desert jump

Deaths of illegal immigrants have risen along the U.S.-Mexico border in the past six months despite a nearly 25 percent drop in Border Patrol arrests that suggests far fewer people are entering the country unlawfully.
The number of migrant deaths along the roughly 2,000-mile border increased by nearly 7 percent between Oct. 1 and March 31, the first six months of the 2009 federal fiscal year. The biggest increase occurred in the patrol's Tucson Sector, the nation's busiest corridor for illegal immigrants coming through Mexico.
In all, the remains of 128 people were found, compared to 120 in the same six-month period the year before, according to just-released Border Patrol statistics.

Yet, apprehensions of people crossing illegally from Mexico into Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California dropped to less than 265,000 — a decrease of more than 24 percent from the comparable period a year ago and 37 percent from the first six months of the federal fiscal year that began on Oct. 1, 2006. The number of arrests is generally considered an indication of how many people are illegally crossing the border into the U.S. The more apprehensions, the more people are thought to be coming.

Migrant-rights groups say there's a direct correlation between the number of deaths and increased enforcement along the U.S.-Mexico border.

"What we've seen is that the death rate has gone up even though the number of people crossing has gone down, the direct result of more agents, more fencing and more equipment," said the Rev. Robin Hoover, founder of the Tucson-based group Humane Borders, which provides water stations for migrants crossing the Southern Arizona desert. "The migrants are walking in more treacherous terrain for longer periods of time, and you should expect more deaths."

Nearly half the dead were found in the Border Patrol's rugged Tucson Sector, which saw a 30 percent increase from the same period a year earlier. Deaths also rose in the Laredo and Del Rio sectors in Texas, and in the El Centro Sector of southwestern California.

No sector approached Tucson's sheer numbers: The remains of 60 people were found during the first half of the 2009 fiscal year.

Read the complete article by Arthur H. Rotstein in the Arizona Daily Star

U.S. jury finds rancher liable in vigilante trial

PHOENIX (Reuters) - A U.S. federal jury awarded more than $70,000 in damages to a group of illegal immigrants who claimed they were held at gunpoint by an Arizona rancher after slipping over the border from Mexico five years ago.

The civil jury at the U.S. District Court in Tucson, Arizona, found Roger Barnett liable for assault and intentionally inflicting emotional distress in the incident in March 2004. It ordered him to pay four women $73,352 in damages, attorneys for the plaintiffs said.

The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which backed the suit, said the group of Mexican nationals was resting in a dry streambed in Douglas, Arizona, when they were approached by Barnett, who was armed with a gun and accompanied by a large dog.

The suit alleged Barnett held them captive at gunpoint, threatening that his dog would attack and that he would shoot anyone who tried to leave.

David Hardy, an attorney representing Barnett, said his client was found not liable on claims of battery, false imprisonment and violation of civil rights, and planned to appeal.

The trial highlighted the issue of vigilante violence in southern Arizona, which is a major thoroughfare for illegal immigrants and the place where several civilian border patrols have operated in recent years.

"This verdict in favor of the plaintiffs sends a strong message condemning vigilante violence against immigrants," MALDEF staff attorney Marisol Perez said in a statement.

Barnett, who claims to have detained more than 10,000 people who crossed the border illegally from Mexico and handed them over to the U.S. Border Patrol, has faced previous civil action.

In November 2006, a jury found Barnett responsible for holding a Mexican-American family at gunpoint during a hunting trip, and awarded them nearly $100,000 in damages.

Read the article by Tim Gaynor in Reuters.

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