Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Death and Disappearance in the Desert

Reluctantly, the world acknowledges the suffering and the many deaths of the migrants from the Middle East crossing the Mediterranean Sea crossing to Europe. Less discussed is the deaths of those who are crossing the deserts of the US-Mexican border states. Prior to the 1990’s, deaths in the desert were rare and usually attributable to vehicle breakdowns. Today the Sonora Desert, 100,000 square miles of Arizona, California and Northern Mexico, particularly its remotest areas, is a death trap.

Since 1999, the Pima County Medical Examiner’s Office has handled more than 2,800 human remains, those who died attempting to migrate through the southern Arizona deserts. Border Patrol reports 6,029 human remains recovered in the same region since the 1990s. Fifty-one bodies have been recorded already this year, with deaths trending between 100 and 250 annually over 10 years. The actual number of death and “disappearance” is surely much greater.  

The 1999 “Prevention through Deterrence” enforcement directive, a tactic called, “Chase and Scatter.” has fuelled this catastrophe. A few individuals are usually apprehended. The rest flee, often unable to regroup, making off alone into the wilderness without supplies. This tactic has contributed to untold numbers of the disappeared.  The "disappeared" in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands, are “a direct consequence of U.S. border enforcement policies and practices.” In other words, it is state violence—perpetrated by the U.S. government and its apparatus of exclusion. The continuing deaths are one of humanitarian crises in the world, with untold thousands of immigrants lost or found dead because of a 20-year enforcement tactic that has closed off most of the easy land crossings between the United States and Mexico. The United States, and the U.S. Border Patrol in particular, is entirely responsible for the deaths and missing people because of the policy that is "pushing traffic" into inhospitable landscapes.

Spurred on by economic necessity and gang violence in their home countries, many immigrants and refugees — guided by ruthless smugglers — make a perilous journey through rugged, hostile desert terrain in Arizona and other states.
"Extreme heat and bitter cold, scarce and polluted water sources, treacherous topography, and near-total isolation from possible rescue are used as weapons of border enforcement," states a report by Two Arizona immigrant-advocacy groups, No More Deaths and La CoaliciĆ³n de Derechos Humanos , "The rugged environment along the border routinely injures those crossing with sprains, blisters, and heat-related illness; many become lost and disoriented in these vast and remote expanses of wilderness, resulting in disappearance and death."

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