Albion Monitor /News
American Friends Service Committee press release

Hundreds of Immigrants Die at Texas-Mexico Border

While Congress considers even harsher border enforcement

PHILADELPHIA - Hundreds of undocumented migrants die each year at the Texas-Mexico border, according to a study released last month by the Center for Immigration Research at the University of Houston.

The study, sponsored by the Immigration Law Enforcement Monitoring Project (ILEMP) of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), raises new concerns about current U.S. border control efforts at a time when policy makers are considering even harsher border enforcement legislation.

Most illegal immigration is by people who enter with valid tourist visas and stay past their expiration

The University of Houston study, "Migrant Deaths at the Texas-Mexico Border, 1985-1994," documents that as many as 330 people die each year attempting to make undocumented crossings into Texas, and that a substantial majority of these migrant deaths are never officially registered in vital statistics data bases.

Of those deaths that are officially registered, as many as half of those who die are never identified. Says one observer, when local officials find a body in the river, "they just assume it's death by drowning, and it's just another illegal Mexican."

The study concludes that the deaths of undocumented migrants at the border constitutes "a public health problem of nontrivial proportions." The problem, however, affects mainly citizens of Mexico, while the policies that cause the health risks are set by the U.S. government. Further, as the study notes, the state and local officials on the U.S. side of the border responsible for monitoring the deaths "have no direct say in the policies of border enforcement that give rise to the deaths."

"The immigration bills now before Congress would worsen the problem of violence and abuse on our southern border," says Maria Jimenez, director of ILEMP. Proposed legislation would increase the use of military equipment and fortifications on the southern border, mandate dramatic increases in border guards, and seriously erode the civil and human rights of both immigrants and citizens. The INS has concentrated 88 percent of its enforcement staff on the southwestern border, even though 60 percent of undocumented immigration occurs away from the border, not involving illegal entries, but people who enter with valid tourist visas and stay past their expiration.

At a time when the funding for nearly all other federal departments has decreased, INS has seen its budget increase

The Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) warns that it cannot possibly recruit and train qualified agents at the rate Congress is proposing, and that many of the bills' measures, such as the three-tiered border fence planned for the border south of San Diego, will increase the danger of injury to its own agents as well as to border crossers. At a time when the funding for nearly all other federal departments has decreased, INS has seen its budget increase by 72 percent since 1993. This year alone, its staff will increase by nearly 25 percent.

"We believe that proposed border enforcement legislation is fundamentally misguided," says Jimenez, "because it does not respond to the two major forces driving people to risk attempting illegal entry into this country: the terror of war and the crushing burden of poverty and economic dislocation."

The University of Houston study shows the human dimension of border policy. Each fatality is a human life lost; these losses are part of the cost of U.S. border control policies. The AFSC believes that borders should be the product of mutual agreement; that they should be mutually acknowledged, jointly administered and demilitarized. The legitimate interests of all parties can be best addressed through streamlined border crossing procedures that respect human dignity and rights.

For nearly a decade, the Immigration Law Enforcement Project (ILEMP) of the AFSC has documented the heavy costs of immigration control policies imposed on the southern U.S. border. ILEMP has demonstrated a widespread and persistent pattern of civil and human rights abuses by immigration authorities, ranging from verbal assaults, to illegal detention, to homicide.

[Editor's note: On Thursday (May 2), the Senate voted 97 - 3 to almost double the number of Border Patrol agents and build a fence along the California - Mexico border]

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Albion Monitor May 5, 1996 (

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