The real victims of illegal border crossings over the Mexico border to the U.S. are hundreds of migrants who die in the desert every year. The Los Angeles Times and others have reported that this number of deaths ranges from over a hundred to two hundred and more painful deaths every year despite the reduced number who actually attempt to cross in recent years.
The vast majority of these people are desperate family folks simply seeking a job to feed their families back home. The US Border Patrol reported 322 migrant deaths in fiscal year 2016 (ending 30 September 2016), which was higher than the numbers reported in 2014 and 2015 (313 and 251, respectively), but lower than the number of deaths reported in any year during the period 2003-2013. The highest number of deaths reported over the period 1998-2016 were the 492 deaths reported by the Border Patrol in 2005. Exposure (including heat stroke, dehydration, and hyperthermia) was the leading cause. Not a good way to die: slow, painful and heartbreaking to the bereavement of the families whom these migrants hope to support.
But there are also many deaths on the Mexican side of the border numbering in the hundreds according to Mexico's Secretariat of Foreign Affairs. On this side of the border in 2012, the United States Border Patrol found the remains of 463 migrants in the US, of which 177 were discovered along the section of the border near Tucson, Arizona. The Rio Grande Valley of South Texas reported 150 migrant remains found, a jump from 2011 due to the increased numbers of Central American migrants.
In addition to exposure, a significant number of deaths are due to traffic accidents and there are also reports of death due to excessive force applied by Border Patrol agents as well as assaults by the menacing drug gangs. In August 2010, 72 would-be illegal immigrants from Mexico were lined up and executed, their bodies discovered on a remote ranch a mere 90 miles from the U.S. border. The drug gang responsible for the kidnapping and murders, Los Zetas, captured its victims as they traveled through Tamaulipas, presumably on their way to cross the border illegally into the United States. When the 72 people refused to work for the gang, they were executed. The dangers faced by these migrants include kidnapping, robbery, extortion, sexual violence, and death at the hands of cartels, smugglers, and even corrupt Mexican government officials. The 72 executed migrants are representative of the majority of migrants who are looking only for honest work across the border, not criminal ways or drug trafficking.
Additional fences and border patrols in recent years has had the effect of reducing the overall number of illegal migrants, but also funneling the migration towards mountainous areas and desert regions that are more dangerous to trek. As more fences and walls are built along the border, we can expect more funneling and concentration to extremely dangerous means of mobility and transportation. Only if the fences, walls and patrols are comprehensive and 99.99% effective in all border areas will we see an end to hundreds of painful deaths a year along our borders.
Ironically, if we really love our people in Mexico and Latin America, we may want to protect them by building the best wall system possible. This will not only protect the family provider migrants by keeping them off these dangerous paths, but also stop those opportunistic drug gangs and mercenary coyotes from doing their criminal stuff across our borders. We cannot solve all the economic problems of Mexico and Latin America by allowing people to risk their lives to illegally cross our borders. The cost of lives lost in our deserts and mountains is simply too high despite the benefits for those who successfully cross.
Supporting the status quo makes us only a partner or co-sponsor to a system that doesn’t work and causes many deaths on both sides of the border every year. If you’re not killed trying to cross the border, you will be subject to a second class existence on this side of the border and often to be exploited or abused by unscrupulous employers and gangs. Yes, there are many who do survive the journey and bravely find a way to live a productive life to benefit their families on both sides of the border. But the system overall is exploitive for cheap labor that benefits large and small employers on this side of the border. The government and business leaders don’t need to make any laws or special plans to make this exploitive system happen. The natural instinct to survive for impoverished people south of the border is all it takes, and any space or crack in the border fence or wall they can crawl through.
The poverty of our southern neighbors is a boon to our businesses seeking to profit from cheap labor. Colonialism beyond borders. And because we didn’t actually make policies or plans to deliberately create this poverty or openly invite people to cross our borders across the desert, we can claim that our hands are clean. If we buy illegal drugs, the drugs will pass our borders. If we employ illegal immigrants, the workers will seek these jobs in any way possible, even at great risks. We are responsible, even if we only want to make a living with a small business or large farm on this side of the border. To ease your conscience, put on a white glove whenever you hire an illegal immigrant, to claim your innocence.
Increasing the annual legal immigration quota for Mexico would be a simple and great help to increase the economy on both sides of the border.
Even with the introduction of automated farming systems and robots or agbots, we lose millions of dollars’ worth of crops on this side of the border every year due to inadequate numbers of workers who are willing and able to do the back-breaking work of harvesting and weeding our crops in California and many parts of the U.S. The guest worker program provides H-2A visas to a few thousand workers from Mexico a year. Farmers are demanding that this number be increased. We can selectively improve our relations with Mexico and various states in Central America by negotiating more generous immigration quotas. The benefit to other countries is the likelihood that their expatriates will most likely send dollars to their families back home every month.
Will increasing immigration quotas or guest workers induce Mexico to pay for the wall? Probably not, but it may be a bargaining chip for trade agreements and related policies beneficial to all, including legal Mexican Americans and Dreamers and those in-between. This increase of quotas will also reduce the incentive for those who think about crossing the border illegally. Politics requires borders. People need access to jobs regardless of borders. Many immigrants from the south and other areas also seek relief from governments that violate basic human rights and democratic freedom. Like the right to live.
The cost of building a wall across the border is enormous. Check the Great Wall of China. Millions per mile. The US-Mexico border length is about 1951 miles. Where does this money come from? Will it be extracted from other social benefits? Do the indigenous people of this continent and their descendants have human rights beyond our modern national borders? Who really owns the land? What right do we have to create a constitution and statutes that prevail above the native rites? Is it simply might over mind? Greed over sharing?
Borders, walls and fences help to define good neighbors and allies in many parts of the world. But they can also promote the abuse and exploitation of proximate peoples including indigenous groups who may depend upon resources beyond the newly claimed ownership rights and their borders and walls. The Sonoran desert also skirts both sides of the border and is home to several endangered species including migratory wildlife, like the rare American jaguar.
Covering 120,000 square miles of southwestern Arizona, southeastern California, and the Mexican states of Baja and Sonora, Sonoran desert mountains, rivers, and canyons provide luxurious habitat for numerous unique species specially adapted for heat, aridity, and intense summer monsoons. More than 100 reptiles, 2,000 native plants, 60 mammals, and 350 birds call this desert home, not only surviving here, but thriving — as long as their habitats remain intact. Can new walls somehow allow the American jaguar to pass across the border, like the panthers who use special tunnels and bridges across freeways in Los Angeles and other areas?
The wall may possibly encompass a green footprint by incorporating automated gateways for migrating animals. Envision a small tunnel about a meter in diameter and extending a couple of meters beyond the wall. In this tunnel cameras will automatically record the movement of animals which can be used to account for the migration of endangered species and others. These animal gateways may be placed in selected areas and spaced about a mile apart where needed. Automated systems will close the gate whenever the wrong species tries to pass. Border patrols will back up the system to make sure the violators don’t get very far. Smaller drains near the base also should be included mainly to keep flash floods from damming up against the wall. These drains will also allow smaller critters, snakes and bugs to pass if they are accessible. A small ramp may help in this regard. There may also be ways of accommodating birds with nesting boxes or hollows along the wall.
These proposed automated gateways may be powered by solar panels and wind turbines in appropriate areas. Why not use the right of way for additional wind turbines and solar farms to add to regional power grids? The green power system may actually help pay for the wall. In some areas recreational amenities may also be incorporated into the wall system and surrounding area. The wall doesn’t even have to look like a wall in all sections. For example, in some areas it could be part of a building or recreational park.
Many Americans favor the border wall mostly to improve security. Some may also favor a truly effective wall to deter illegal migrants from suicidal pathways. The costs of a wall of this magnitude are high both financially and ecologically and will no doubt compromise other significant budget categories. Increasing immigration quotas and guest workers may reduce illegal crossings somewhat, but as long as the border has a hole in it, people will try to pass, dangers and all, out of desperation. The status quo is not acceptable. Something, someone, somewhere has to give.
The wall may reduce or eliminate the loss of lives across the desert, but it will also diminish hungry and skillful labor resources that we need on this side of the border in many industries, not just farming, unless we increase the immigration quotas and guest worker quotas for our southern neighbors who really do want to work for their livelihood. History has shown that our southern migrants are not only hard workers but also very creative and responsible people. We know, for example, that their ancestors developed agriculture and astronomy prior to the intrusion of European and other exotic explorers thousands of years ago. They represent a great human resource to our continent that should be respected and allowed to properly participate in the full development of our collective American dream without second class citizenship.