Released 18 November 2006  By BORDER NETWORK FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
2006 Report on Migrant Deaths at the US-Mexico Border
BORDER NETWORK FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
November of 2006
El Paso-New Mexico Border Region
In 1994, at the same time that the North American Free Trade Agreement was adopted, thus reducing barriers to trade between North American countries, barriers to the movement of labor and people increased significantly. The United States government began implementation of Operation Hold the Line in 1993, a border enforcement strategy conceptualized by the El Paso Sector Border Patrol Chief at the time, and Operation Gatekeeper in October of 1994. According to a Department of Justice Report, these operations were intended to create higher visibility of Border Patrol agents along the more populated and easily crossed areas of the U.S./Mexico Border. These operations began the current trend towards militarization of the border by providing larger resources for apprehension and deterrence of ?would be crossers? including infrared technology, motion sensors, helicopters, all terrain vehicles and the erection of solid fencing at the border.
According to the report, Border Patrol authorities in San Diego believed that high visibility in one region would reduce illegal entry to that area while also creating an overall reduction in illegal immigration to the east as this area 'was so rugged and inhospitable, and so lacking in transportation facilities and other amenities, that few aliens would attempt entry there.' The same strategy was adopted with Operation Hold the Line along the Mexican border with Texas and New Mexico, and Operation Safeguard in Arizona. These operations resulted in the squeezing of migrants from urban centers to the dangerous and deadly terrain of the mountains and deserts and into an essential death trap.
Immigrant advocates and human rights workers along the border have reported a drastic increase in migrant deaths since the inception of these border enforcement strategies. Since 1994, the number of reported border deaths has exceeded 3,000. Border enforcement policy is seen as a direct correlation to this increase, yet little has been done by the U.S. government to address the increasing death toll, and in fact, border communities continue to experience increased militarization, as evidenced by the announcement of President Bush to send the National Guard in May of 2006 and the signing of H.R. 6061, the Secure Fence Act, on October 26, 2006. For the fiscal year 2006, 432 deaths have been reported in the entire border region. Arizona reported 205 deaths; California reported 52 deaths; and New Mexico and Texas combined reported 175 deaths, which represents an increase of 34 fatalities in these states from the previous fiscal year.
Of our great concern is the increase in deaths in the El Paso Sector of the United States Border Patrol (In Texas, this sector consists of el Paso county, Socorro, Fabens, and parts of Hudspeth County; in New Mexico: Dona Ana, Luna, & Otero). In FY2006 there have been 34 reported deaths in this sector, a number that has nearly doubled from the approximate 18 deaths reported for FY2005.
According to information provided by the Mexican Consulate in El Paso, Texas, the number for FY2006 includes 24 Mexican Nationals that have died since January of 2006. Seven of these deaths remain unidentified, 10 were women ranging in age form 16 years to 50 years, and 10 were men ranging in age from 15 years to 54 years.
The majority of the deaths occurring while crossing in the El Paso Sector are attributed to drowning, accidents from train hopping, dehydration, and heat stroke. In New Mexico, the majority of the deaths occur from immigrants attempting to cross through the desert areas, with 60% of reported deaths in New Mexico occurring during the summer months from May to July when people are most vulnerable to heat and sun exposure.
Details provided by the El Paso Sector Border Patrol report that of the 34 deaths, 13 were due to heat exposure, 3 of cold exposure, 4 vehicular accidents, 9 drowning, 1 unknown, 3 reported as 'other', and 1 in which skeletal remains were discovered. The sector has reported 497 rescues, which illuminate the risk of fatality in this region. According to the Border Patrol of successful rescues there were: 40 heat exposures, 5 cold exposures, 15 water rescues, 83 medial needs, 8 vehicle rescues, 9 reported as other and 337 described as 'confined based'.
While the cost of even one human life is inexcusable, the numbers reported here represent an atrocity in the abuse of human rights. In the entire 28-year history of the Berlin Wall there were 239 deaths reported. In one year, U.S. border policy has managed to cause nearly double that number of deaths at the U.S./Mexico border. Perhaps most disturbing is the impunity of what is occurring, particularly as the majority of the United States public is unaware of the staggering statistics and their direct correlation to harsh border policies. It is imperative that both the national and international community begin to examine the status of human rights at the border. Border enforcement policy to date has not addressed these concerns and has effectually done little to decrease the flow of migration.
Within the increasing processes of globalization, migration has expanded globally as people attempt to cross borders in order to survive. In order to create change in migratory flows, an understanding of the root causes of these global migrations is necessary. National security cannot be attained if community security is jeopardized. Moves towards militarization of our borders as a solution to perceived immigration issues is unrealistic if we begin to understand the pain of a parent who must steal food in order to feed his children, and a barbed wire dream of hope on the other side.
A border enforcement policy, which restricts the human and civil rights of human beings, is not the solution. Current policy has led to the above-mentioned proliferation of deaths, an increase in border vigilante groups, increased human smuggling circuits, and gross violations of human rights.
According to the Guidelines for an Alternative Border Enforcement Policy and Practice developed by the Border Community Alliance for Human Rights, these operations should be suspended with immediate attention given to developing new strategies that would provide orderly, legal crossing along the border, confront other national security threats, and redefine border enforcement priorities so that immigration and immigrants are separated from criminal activities. We must look at how to address the real threats to national security, while eliminating fatal policies, which erase the lives of innocent people. Just and humane policies, which respect the dignity and humanity of all persons, regardless of legal status, are essential. Immigrant communities and human rights workers need to be included in the planning of new border strategy.
Finally, the U.S. public must become aware of the situation on the border in order to actively engage in conversations that hold the government accountable to its values for human life and dignity.
Summary of Findings
- The number of migrant deaths in El Paso Sector increased dramatically. Figures from FY 2005-2006 in comparison to the FY 2004-2005 show an alarming 100% increase of migrant deaths in our El Paso- New Mexico Region.
- While in the Arizona Sector the number of deaths (205) decreased in the FY 2005-2006 from FY 2004-2005, the increasing on the number of deaths in El Paso Sector suggests a shift of migratory flows due to tougher enforcement and xenophobic activities in Arizona.
- Even though the number of migrant tragically surpassed the four hundred deaths (432), it appears to be a small decrease on total migrant deaths along the border (all sectors) in reference to previous FY 2004-2005 (476).
- Most migrant deaths in the El Paso Sector occurred in far and isolate places where help was unavailable, or where emergency and rescue teams did not have easy access.
- El Paso Border Patrol Sector reported 497 rescues for FY 2005-2006, which indeed contained the number of possible deaths to be higher. It also proves that a greater number of resources were used for rescue operations in our El Paso-New Mexico region.
1. As noted in several reports (i.e. Center for Immigration Studies - University of Houston, the GAO), border operations such as 'Hold the Line' and others force people to cross the border in dangerous and isolated (desert and mountains) regions where the chances of dying of hypothermia and heat exhaustion increase dramatically. Because these operations have failed to stop immigrants from entering the country, increased and professionalized smuggling operations, fostered civil and human rights violations, these operations should be suspended with immediate attention given to developing new strategies that would provide orderly, legal crossing along the border, confront other national security threats, and redefine border enforcement priorities so that immigration and immigrants are separated from criminal activities.
2. The inherent right to life has been severely jeopardized by United States Border Enforcement strategies mentioned above, which erect fences and walls in the more populated areas of the border region, forcing migrants desperate to cross in order to fulfill the basic necessities for life, into the dangerous terrain of mountains, deserts and rivers. The United States must review its border enforcement policies to comply with the Article 6 of International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which are been systematically violated and ignored.
The United States government should develop and implement a New Comprehensive Immigration and Border Policy that, among other provisions, regulates and legalizes the mobility of immigrant workers and families, and de-militarized our border communities. Such regularization of migratory workers must guarantee certain minimum rights such as; the right of a dignified, a legal and a orderly entry into the US, free of abuse and violence; the right to work; the right to residency, etc.
 Office of Inspector General, Background to the Office of Inspector General Investigation, available at http://www.usdoj.gov/oig/special/9807/gkp01.htm
 UCIS, INS - Southwest Border Strategy, May, 1st, 1999 available at http://www.uscis.gov/text/publicaffairs/factsheets/BPOps.htm
 Eschbach, Hagan, Rodriguez, 'Deaths During Undocumented Migration: Trends and Policy Implication in the New Era of Homeland Security', in Defense of the Alien, Washington, D.C.
 Derechos Humanos Arizona, www.derechoshumanosaz.net
 El Paso Sector Border Patrol
 The Berlin Wall: History of the Berlin Wall, available on line at http://www.the-berlin-wall.de/fakten.html
 Carey, Emily, Testimony for El Paso Border Hearing August 2006: Militarization of the U.S./Mexico Border: Life, Liberty, & Human Rights on the Line.