In prior comments, I've touched upon the fact that our border policy has been designed to weaponize the desert against migrants, leading to so much death and suffering.
We could easily change our immigration, refugee, and asylum policies to make it so that they don't have to go through hostile land, using dangerous methods, to escape brutal, lethal living conditions and deprivation. We intentionally design our policies to make people go those routes, and then when they get here we pack them into freezing cells like sardines with only mylar blankets, and then you act like we're entirely innocent whenever people in our care end up dying, as many have.
Many more are lying dead in the desert, their bones bleaching and being gnawed on by coyotes, because we've designed it so that's the route they take. Tens of thousands.
This is a map of just Arizona, each red dot marks a body, often several from the same group.
This is an excellent article from The Grauniad that talks about the specifics of that, the actual policy began in earnest under Bill Clinton in the nineties.
A border patrol agent looks at the body of a Guatemalan migrant Misael Paiz, 25, who died in the Sonoran desert in Pima county, Arizona, in September. Photograph: Lucy Nicholson/Reuters
When trying to make sense of these two tragic deaths – and while details are still emerging – one thing is clear: the journey they undertook is designed to be deadly. In the 1990s, then president Bill Clinton introduced Prevention Through Deterrence, a border security policy which closed off established migrant routes. This forced migrants like Jakelin and her father through more remote and trying terrain. Jakelin and Felipe would probably not have died had it not been for the extreme conditions that Prevention Through Deterrence forces migrants to withstand.
As the No More Deaths spokeswoman, Justine Orlovsky-Schnitzler, notes: “Crossing from the US border in any location, there’s no physical way as a human being to carry the kind of water you’ll need to survive those conditions for three, four days of walking.” Those who survive the immediate journey still face significant health risks if they are not immediately granted medical treatment – at present, border patrol relies on self-assessment, and, as in Jakelin’s case, the documentation is often in a language they can’t read.
Prevention Through Deterrence meant tremendous investments in surveillance and border militarization, with the aim of pushing migrants ever deeper into the unforgiving Sonoran desert. Though the border patrol denies accountability for deaths along the US-Mexico border, their very metrics for success under the policy include “fee increases by smugglers”, “possible increase in complaints”, and “more violence at attempted entries”. These children’s deaths were by no means unpredictable. Violence is built into the plan.
Hundreds disappear each year, their remains too decomposed to be identified
The immigrant advocacy group No More Deaths charges that the US border patrol uses the desert as a weapon. Armed with night-vision equipment, border patrol agents chase migrants blindly into hostile desert terrain. In the ensuing chaos, migrants fall to their deaths, or get hopelessly lost. Hundreds disappear each year, their remains too decomposed to be identified.
Prevention Through Deterrence has done little to curb migration, but it has led to an explosion in needless suffering. As accessible routes are abandoned in favor of remote terrain, what was once a straightforward journey becomes life-threatening. In 1994, the year of the strategy’s inception, there were an estimated 14 deaths alongside the US-Mexico border. Last year, a staggering 412 deaths were documented in the region. As migrants are funnelled deeper into remote areas, they face not only the capricious desert terrain, but fatigue, dehydration and a host of heat-related ailments. Seizing on an influx of vulnerable, disoriented travellers, cartels lie in wait to extort and kidnap their next victims. Stories of rape along the migrant trail are so overwhelmingly common that many take contraceptives before the journey.
Prevention Through Deterrence assumes that migrants will simply stop coming if the journey is difficult enough. But migration is as old as human history itself. While the US decries an explosion of immigrants, policymakers would do well to consider their role in perpetuating migration flows. From exploitative trade deals – Nafta put more than 1 million Mexican farmers out of work – to outright imperial aggression – see US-backed coups in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Guatemala and Honduras, among others – the US is a harbinger of death and destruction across the continent. To turn away those who flee the disastrous results of our policies is victim blaming of the most vile sort.