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Marlene H. Phillips

Marlene H. Phillips

Posted April 10, 2009 | 09:20 AM (EST)

The Consequences of a Wall: More Deaths Along AZ Border


Sixty. One hundred twenty eight. Six. Cold hard numbers reported in the Arizona Daily Star.

According to the report from the Associated Press that appeared in Thursday's Daily Star, during the first half of this fiscal year the remains of 60 migrants were found in the Southern Arizona desert; 128 bodies were found across the entire U.S./Mexican border. The article showed two border statistics, one going up while the other went down. The decrease is in the number of arrests of illegal aliens along the U.S./Mexican border, which declined significantly in Arizona and along the California border as well, as documented in an article published by the Los Angeles Times last month. But as the arrests decline another figure has risen: the number of migrants dying in an attempt to cross the border. In the first six months of this fiscal year arrests dropped 24%. Deaths rose 7%.

As quoted in the Daily Star article,the founder of the Tucson-based group Humane Borders believes deaths are on the rise as illegal immigrants travel deeper into the desert to avoid beefed up security at border crossings and the sections of the border that are now walled. "Migrants are walking into more treacherous terrain for longer periods of time," says the Reverend Robin Hoover, "and you should expect more deaths." Hoover's organization, which has provided humanitarian aid to migrants in the form of water drop points in remote sections of the desert, has been tracking the location of the bodies, and found migrants are venturing further into the desert and away from roads: "They're going around the fences, the technology and where the agents are." And the unforgiving desert claims more of them.

In Tucson, the border is not an election year issue. Our evening news and local papers report on the border almost daily: we hear the reaction of border town residents to increased security measures, the effect of the wall on communities on both sides, and when remains are found in the desert we hear that too, often from the many non profit groups in the Tucson area that deal with border issues. The Tucson-based border organization Coalicion de Derechos Humano (The Human Rights Coalition) keeps a running tally on its website's homepage chronicling the number of migrant deaths for the calendar year, as does the homepage of No More Deaths whose "Humanitarian Aid is Never a Crime" posters can be seen in windows and front yards of many Tucson homes.

Americans far from the border may read that arrests are down 24% and think that's progress. And it is; nobody in this border town wants to see that number go up. But I wonder if folks in northern states hear the other statistic. Do they realize the frequency with which migrants are dying on U.S. soil? Does their local paper provide them with a database labeled "Death on the Border" like ours does? Do they hear about the migrant found dead in the Arizona desert, clutching his birth certificate to his chest so authorities would be able to identify his remains and notify his relatives? Or that 25% of the migrants who died in 2008 were women?

Cold hard numbers indeed.