Sunday, March 1, 2009

Perilous Passage: Mexican migrant deaths in Hidalgo, Starr counties rise 40 percent in 2008

February 28, 2009
The Monitor
By Jared Taylor

REYNOSA - Alberto Perez Diaz sat with his backpack, a 2-liter bottle of Coca-Cola and a fresh pair of tennis shoes as he kicked back at the Casa del Migrante here Wednesday afternoon.

The native of the Mexican state of Chiapas had spent the previous two days on a bus, watching the scenery change from lush expanses of jungle near the country's southern border to the dry scrubland that makes up much of its northern frontier with Texas.

Soon, the 30-year-old Perez said, he would leave the Casa del Migrante - a Catholic-run shelter that offers migrants a brief respite - and then swim across the Rio Grande and walk north.

"There's lots of work but little money" in his home state, he said in Spanish.

Migrants like Perez continue to cross into the United States on a daily basis to search for work or a better life.

But the numbers suggest the illegal crossings are more treacherous than in the past as migrants try to circumvent the U.S. government's efforts to stem the flow of illegal immigration, Mexican officials said.


The number of dead Mexican and unidentified migrants who crossed into the United States through Hidalgo, Starr and Brooks counties jumped by more than 40 percent in 2008, said the Mexican Consulate in McAllen, which tracks those three counties.

The consulate handled 67 immigrant bodies found by U.S. and Mexican authorities on both sides of the border last year - up from 39 people discovered dead in 2007.

There have been 14 so far in 2009.

"I am sure that they are risking themselves through more isolated areas around checkpoints," said Erasmo Martinez, the Mexican consul in McAllen.

The U.S. Border Patrol said progress on the border fence along the Rio Grande has pushed the flow of migrants west of the heavily populated McAllen metro area.

And more boots on the ground - Border Patrol has added about 300 agents in the Rio Grande Valley since October 2008 - has pushed immigrants into more remote locales once they make it north of the border cities, said Dan Doty, a local Border Patrol spokesman. Link this story in this graf:

"The brush country is harsh," he said. "But with our area of operations it's not like Arizona, where if we deny access to immediate cities on the border, there's miles and miles of desert."


More of the victims discovered last year were women and children - a sign that some families are trying to reunite after the husband has become established in the United States, said Miriam Medel, spokeswoman for the Mexican Consulate in McAllen.

Bodies are matched through missing person reports in Mexico and information families provide when they fear a relative's trip may have taken a turn for the worst, Medel said.

The Mexican government keeps a database of photos, reports of identifying tattoos and even samples of DNA that help it to identify bodies.

Martinez said Mexican officials have a good "working relationship" with U.S. authorities as they try to identify and locate the families of immigrants who die as they head north from the Valley.

Border Patrol agents travel with extra water and have specially trained officers available to provide medical assistance should authorities encounter anyone who needs help, Doty said. The agency also plans to deploy a series of emergency beacons this week that will allow people on remote ranchland to call for help at the push of a button.


Perfecto Flores Montes is among those who never made it to their destinations, in his case leaving behind a family in Florida.

His wife and three other relatives traveled to Reynosa on Feb. 22 from their hometown in the mountains of Guerrero state in southwest Mexico to wait for his body to emerge from the murky waters of the Rio Grande.

Flores, 36, had spent 17 years working as a landscaper in Florida and fathered four children with his wife before he was arrested on drug charges in 2003, said Artemio Salazar, who said he was Flores' brother.

Flores spent the next five years in a federal prison and was then deported to Mexico last year.

He and a group of four others tried to get back into the United States last weekend.

But as the group swam across the river, Flores went under. The others left him behind and recounted what happened to U.S. Border Patrol when they were arrested soon after they emerged from the water, Salazar said.

Mexican authorities pulled Flores' body from the Rio Grande near Reynosa late Thursday afternoon.

The Mexican government pays for the transport and funeral of each one of its citizens who dies while migrating abroad, Medel said.

Still, 31 of the bodies that fell under the purview of the Mexican Consulate in McAllen last year - almost half the total - have yet to be identified.

Those nameless bodies are handled by the government of the county in which they are found, Medel said. From there, the unidentified corpses typically remain in a morgue for several months.

Then, they are buried as part of the county's process for handling unidentified bodies. Link this story here:


Perez said he hoped his trip into the United States would go as smoothly as it did the last time he crossed the border two years ago.

He was planning to cross the Rio Grande on the west side of Reynosa across from Anzalduas County Park, south of Mission, he said.

Once he made it across, Perez said, he would change into dry clothes and begin his walk north to Corpus Christi - alone.

It takes two days and nights of walking with few breaks to make it there, he said.

"You just listen for the sound of 281," he said, referring to the U.S. highway that runs from the McAllen metro area north through Alice, passing about 50 miles west of Corpus Christi. The highway noise would help him maintain his direction during the trek.

After that, Perez planned to take a bus to Dallas and look for work.

U.S. and Mexican officials said immigrants who choose to cross alone face even greater risks than those who travel with others.

"If he does have a medical emergency or runs out of water, there's nobody to share with, nobody to call for help," said Doty, the Border Patrol spokesman.

Perez left behind four daughters, a son and his wife in Chiapas to make his risky trip north.

He plans to send money home when - or if - he finds decent work here, he said.

"If you work hard," Perez said, "there are no problems."

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