In Search of The American Dream, Migrant Crossers Find Death in Texas

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The Rio Grande Valley — known for its long summers, endless rows of palm trees and beautiful Gulf beaches. The region is located in South Texas, and is home to a large and lively border community. The region is now also the tomb of hundreds of men, women, and children that die every year while attempting to cross the border.

Texas has emerged as an epicenter for death and misery in the south as border crossers deaths reach all-time high. Official statistics from the U.S. Border Patrol — who are only able to offer a partial accounting of border deaths — document a total 271 deaths for the fiscal year of 2012. Migrant deaths in Texas are now higher than all other border states combined.

The data and facts were gathered in a report by Houston United's Prevention of Migrant Deaths Working Group and Dr. Christine Kovic, associate professor at the University of Houston-Clear Lake.

The report explains how the deaths in South Texas result from a series of policies beyond just the border region, and criticizes the lack of standardized DNA testing and comprehensive criteria to count border deaths. This, the report claims, add to existing racial and ethnic disparities of Latinos.

Read more of the report's findings after the jump.Deaths of migrants continue to escalade despite the numbers crossing the border is in decline. Border security policies are recognized in many ways to cause these deaths. A strategy known as “Prevention-through-deterrence,” designed by the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Services, creates obstacles and difficulties meant to discourage immigration. Instead, the strategy has shifted undocumented immigration from place to place. Border deaths have increased as migrants are forced to hire smugglers while being pushed to cross in isolated and dangerous terrain. The harsh desert brush in South Texas now leads in claiming the most lives.

Only adding to the complexity of this issue, local and state officials are not carrying out DNA testing that is used to identify the dead.

Most of the bodies recovered in Brooks County — where 129 bodies were found last year — were buried without a forensic examination, a procedure the county cannot afford. Texas law offers guidelines on how to handle remains, but how that is carried out depends on the county.

A deputy must respond to the scene each time a body is found, the majority of the time hidden away miles from any roads. The justice of the peace must then officially declare the person dead. Each body bag costs $740, amounting to $95,000 in costs to the county last year.

Hundreds of families are left without knowing the fate of their loved ones, whether if they are alive or dead or if they were even ever found. Most of the migrant crossers are from far away as Mexico and Central America. We have all experienced the death of a loved one. Imagine the pain these families must be in, left only to hope the bodies of their loved ones were found, buried, and are not still exposed somewhere.  

Houston United offers several key recommendations to combat these issues:

At the local level:

– Establish protocols that comply with state law on DNA testing and on entering relevant data into the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) database

– Ensure collection, transportation, and storage of DNA samples for all unidentified remains.

– Promote humanitarian response to border deaths through seeking broad-based community involvement in assistance to migrants and search and rescue efforts.

At the state level:

– Ensure county compliance with Texas state law in carrying out DNA testing and entering relevant information into missing persons database; establish a state fund to support such compliance.

– Support efforts by local authorities to prevent deaths and identify remains.

At the federal level:

– Prioritize immigration reform that supports family reunification.

– Enact moratorium on deportations and detentions of low priority cases.

– Prioritize respect for human rights of all border communities in border security policies.

– Fund transportation and processing of unidentified remains.

– Support installation of water drums and rescue beacons.

– Establish a search and rescue group independent of U.S. Border Patrol and its enforcement efforts.

You may also be wondering — How do border communities feel about the atrocities occurring in their own backyards?

Just last week, Border Network for Human Rights and other organizations across the U.S. and Mexico held a national day of action against border militarization. Hundreds gathered to protest additional border security measures compromised by Democrats and Republicans in S. 744, the bipartisan immigration reform bill recently passed in the U.S. Senate. People in border communities believe these additional new measures will only further militarize their communities.

Posted in their event page, the measures include:

– Adding 20,000 Border Patrol agents to the more than 21,000 that are currently deployed, resulting in a total over 40,000.

– At least 700 miles of border fencing as triple walls must be completed

– Deployment of the National Guard

– 85 Fixed Watch Towers

– 488 Fixed Remote Video Surveillance Systems

– 232 Mobile Surveillance Systems

– 4,425 Ground Sensors

– 820 Thermal and Night Vision Goggles

– 6 VADER radar systems

– 17 UH-1N Helicopters

– 8 AS-350 light enforcement helicopters

– 15 Blackhawk Helicopters

– 30 marine vessels

– 18 drones (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles).

These measures would cost taxpayers an initial price tag of $47 billion.

Not only are these new additional measures not needed, they add no value in fixing our immigration system and will only continue to push people into their death. Adding more of what is broken to what is already broken, won't result in something else that isn't broken.

Overkill only begins to describe the situation.

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About Author

Omar Araiza

Staff writer Omar Araiza covers immigration, Latino voters, the U.S.-Mexico border, and LGBT issues. He is a proud South Texas native, born and raised in the lower Rio Grande Valley. Omar tweets from @AraizaTX.

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