Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Too many dying along the border

Arizona Republic
January 6, 2010

Death still gallops along Arizona's southern border.

The Border Patrol's Tucson Sector reports that the bodies of 208 border crossers were found in fiscal 2009. That was up from 171 in fiscal 2008.

It happened at a time when the overall number of people crossing the border was thought to be down - something experts gleaned from the fact that apprehensions in the Tucson Sector were at a 10-year low of 241,600 in 2009. (The Tucson Sector includes all of Arizona except a small area near Yuma).

Fewer crossings and more deaths testify to the continued failure of border policies.

Those strategies, heavy on enforcement, have failed for years to impose order on the border. Arizona became the hot spot for illegal immigration after enhanced enforcement in Texas and California funneled smuggling activity into our state. Enhanced enforcement in Nogales and other cities along our border drove illegal immigration into remote and rugged deserts, where people perish on their way to reach jobs or families in the United States.

Since 2006, 46 tunnels have been discovered in the Tucson Sector, including a 36-foot smuggling tunnel snaking 25 feet into Nogales, Ariz. It was discovered in late December after illicit burrowing created a sinkhole in the street. And long treks through harsh desert continue to claim lives.

This is a human-rights crisis at America's southern border. It got worse despite barriers and increased numbers of Border Patrol boots on the ground. In fiscal 2004, for example, the death toll was 142, according to the patrol.

Ironically, agents of the Border Patrol, whose job description is enforcement, have become a significant lifesaving force. Their search-and-rescue team, Borstar, saved 586 people who were in distress in the Tucson Sector in fiscal 2009. The previous year, Borstar prevented 443 people from becoming statistics in the deadly saga of this nation's failed immigration policies.

Those policies are not rational or enforceable. Congress needs to enact immigration reform
that creates a legal mechanism for temporary workers to meet labor demands, status adjustment for workers who are here, an effective system to check a worker's status and tough sanctions for those who hire illegal immigrants.

With the Obama administration offering assurances that immigration reform remains a priority, many are sizing up the political realities of doing this in an election year. But with deaths mounting under the current failed system, there is a moral imperative that should drive reform this year.

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