Saturday, July 31, 2010

Support for Mexican Border Fence Up to 68%

Rasmussen Reports
July 29, 2010

Support for the building of a fence along the Mexican border has reached a new high, and voters are more confident than ever that illegal immigration can be stopped.

A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 68% of U.S. voters now believe the United States should continue to build a fence on the Mexican border. That’s up nine points from March when the Obama administration halted funding for the fence and the highest level of support ever.

Just 21% oppose the continued building of the border fence.

Support for the fence is strong across all demographic groups. But while 76% of Mainstream voters think the United States should continue to build the fence, 67% of the Political Class are opposed to it.

Forty-seven percent (47%) of all voters believe it is possible to end illegal immigration. That’s up slightly from April of last year.

Now only 36% do not think it is possible for the United States to prevent illegal immigrants from getting into the country. That’s down sixteen points since October 2008.

(Want a free daily e-mail update? If it's in the news, it's in our polls). Rasmussen Reports updates are also available on Twitter or Facebook.

The survey of 1,000 Likely U.S. Voters was conducted on July 24-25, 2010 by Rasmussen Reports. The margin of sampling error is +/- 3 percentage points with a 95% level of confidence. Field work for all Rasmussen Reports surveys is conducted by Pulse Opinion Research, LLC. See methodology.

Illegal immigration, always a concern to many voters, has taken on increased visibility due to the controversy over Arizona’s new immigration law. The state law went into effect today, but a federal judge has put several of its more controversial provisions on hold until a Justice Department legal challenge of the law is resolved.

Fifty-six percent (56%) of voters nationwide oppose the Justice Department’s decision to challenge the Arizona law, and 61% favor passage of a law like Arizona’s in their own state.

Fifty-four percent (54%) say the Justice Department instead should take legal action against cities that provide sanctuary for illegal immigrants. Even more think the federal government should cut off funds to these “sanctuary cities.”

Most voters ages 40 and older say it is possible for the United States to end illegal immigration. Republicans by better than two-to-one are more confident than Democrats that it’s possible. Voters not affiliated with either party are more closely divided on the question.

Most members of the Political Class, however, say it can’t be done. Fifty-six percent (56%) of Mainstream voters say it is possible to stop illegal immigration, but 58% of the Political Class disagree.

Sixty-eight percent (68%) of voters say the Political Class doesn’t care what most Americans think anyway.

The number of voters who view the issue of immigration as Very Important has jumped 16 points from last month to its highest level ever, although it still ranks fifth on a list of 10 issues regularly tracked by Rasmussen Reports.

In December 2008, just after President-elect Obama put Janet Napolitano, an opponent of the border fence, in charge of immigration activities, 74% of voters said the federal government was not doing enough to stop illegal immigration.

Sixty-four percent (64%) of voters believe the federal government by failing to enforce immigration law is more to blame for the current controversy over Arizona’s new statute than state officials are for passing it.

In fact, by a two-to-one margin, voters believe the policies of the federal government encourage people to enter the United States illegally.

Voters also have said consistently for years that when it comes to immigration reform, gaining control of the border is more important than legalizing the status of undocumented workers already living in the United States.

Still, 58% favor a welcoming immigration policy that excludes only national security threats, criminals and those who come here to live off the U.S. welfare system.

Please sign up for the Rasmussen Reports daily e-mail update (it’s free) or follow us on Twitter or Facebook. Let us keep you up to date with the latest public opinion news.

Friday, July 30, 2010

An Arizona Morgue Grows Crowded

New York Times
July 28, 2010
by James C. McKinley

TUCSON — Dr. Bruce Parks unzips a white body bag on a steel gurney and gingerly lifts out a human skull and mandible, turning them over in his hands and examining the few teeth still in their sockets.

The body bag, coated with dust, also contains a broken pelvis, a femur and a few smaller bones found in the desert in June, along with a pair of white sneakers.

“These are people who are probably not going to be identified,” said Dr. Parks, the chief medical examiner for Pima County. There are eight other body bags crowded on the gurney.

The Pima County morgue is running out of space as the number of Latin American immigrants found dead in the deserts around Tucson has soared this year during a heat wave.

The rise in deaths comes as Arizona is embroiled in a bitter legal battle over a new law intended to discourage illegal immigrants from settling here by making it a state crime for them to live or seek work.

But the law has not kept the immigrants from trying to cross hundreds of miles of desert on foot in record-breaking heat. The bodies of 57 border crossers have been brought in during July so far, putting it on track to be the worst month for such deaths in the last five years.

Since the first of the year, more than 150 people suspected of being illegal immigrants have been found dead, well above the 107 discovered during the same period in each of the last two years. The sudden spike in deaths has overwhelmed investigators and pathologists at the Pima County Medical Examiner’s Office. Two weeks ago, Dr. Parks was forced to bring in a refrigerated truck to store the remains of two dozen people because the building’s two units were full.

“We can store about 200 full-sized individuals, but we have over 300 people here now, and most of those are border crossers,” Dr. Parks said. “We keep hoping we have seen the worst of this, of these migration deaths. Yet we still see a lot of remains.”

The increase in deaths has happened despite many signs that the number of immigrants crossing the border illegally has dropped in recent years. The number of people caught trying to sneak across the frontier without a visa has fallen in each of the last five years and stands at about half of the record 616,000 arrested in 2000.

Not only has the economic downturn in the United States eliminated many of the jobs that used to lure immigrants, human rights groups say, but also the federal government has stepped up efforts to stop the underground railroad of migrants, building mammoth fences in several border towns and flooding the region with hundreds of new Border Patrol agents equipped with high-tech surveillance tools.

These tougher enforcement measures have pushed smugglers and illegal immigrants to take their chances on isolated trails through the deserts and mountains of southern Arizona, where they must sometimes walk for three or four days before reaching a road.

“As we gain more control, the smugglers are taking people out to even more remote areas,” said Omar Candelaria, the special operations supervisor for the Border Patrol’s Tucson Sector. “They have further to walk and they are less prepared for the journey, and they don’t make it.”

Mr. Candelaria said the surge in discoveries of bodies this year might also owe something to increased patrols. He noted that some of the remains found this year belong to people who died in previous years. But Dr. Parks said that could not account for the entire increase this year. Indeed, the majority of bodies brought in during July, Dr. Parks said, were dead less than a week.

Human rights groups say it is the government’s sustained crackdown on human smuggling that has led to more deaths.

“The more that you militarize the border, the more you push the migrant flows into more isolated and desolate areas, and people hurt or injured are just left behind,” said Kat Rodriguez, a spokeswoman for the CoaliciĆ³n de Derechos Humanos in Tucson.

At the medical examiner’s office in Tucson, Dr. Park’s team of five investigators, six pathologists and one forensic anthropologist face an enormous backlog of more than 150 unidentified remains, with one case going back as far as 2003.

Every day, they labor to match remains with descriptions provided by people who have called their office to report a missing relative, or with reports collected by human rights groups and by Mexican authorities.

Since 2000, Dr. Park’s office has handled more than 1,700 border-crossing cases, and officials here have managed to confirm the identities of about 1,050 of the remains.

Investigators sift through the things the dead carried for clues — Mexican voter registration cards, telephone numbers scrawled on scraps of paper, jewelry, rosaries, family photographs. Often there is precious little to go on.

We had one gentleman who came in as bones, but around his wrist there was a bracelet from a Mexican Hospital that had his picture,” said David Valenzuela, one of the investigators.

If no documents are found, the task becomes harder. Many of the deceased immigrants were too poor to have visited doctors or dentists on a regular basis, so dental or medical records may not exist. Sometimes, a family photograph of the deceased smiling widely is all investigators have to document dental work.

On a recent morning, Bruce Anderson, the forensic anthropologist in the office, was examining the skeleton of an adolescent boy, whose age was somewhere between 14 and 17. His mummified remains were found on the Tohono O’odham Indian Reservation west of Tucson on July 15. The only lead to his identity was a missing front tooth and the neighboring teeth crowded together in the space.

Dr. Anderson called the CoaliciĆ³n de Derechos Humanos, who had a report of a 13-year-old who had been reported missing this year after crossing the border near Sonoyta, Mexico.

The charity immediately contacted the boy’s family to see if he had lost a permanent tooth. Dr. Anderson was still waiting for a reply.

The process takes time, and remains keep piling up. On Monday, Mr. Anderson faced a backlog of 14 new skeletons, in addition to the 40 active cases he is investigating, he said. “One person can’t keep up with this load,” he said.

The pathologists are also under strain. One day last week, Dr. Cynthia Porterfield did five autopsies, on remains of border crossers who died in the desert.

Dr. Porterfield was able to identify one: Jesse Palma Valenzuela, 30, who died on July 12. Three of his travel companions had tried to carry his body back to Mexico but became tired and abandoned him, wrapped in a blanket and positioned off the ground in a tree to keep animals from eating him. Then they crossed back into Mexico and notified the Border Patrol.

Agents discovered Mr. Valenzuela’s body on July 17, right where his friends said it would be, about two-and-a-half miles east of Lukeville, Ariz., not far from the border. Though decomposed, he was still recognizable.

“He’s got quite a few tattoos,” Dr. Porterfield said. “It is how the family ID’d him.”

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Arizona's Immigrant Death Spiral

The Daily Beast
July 29, 2010
by Bryan Curtis

Diego Gutierrez, a 25-year-old man Mexican man, illegally crossed the border into Arizona sometime around last Friday. Gutierrez was handsome and well built, with big eyes and a head of thick, black hair. In a photo taken by a Pima County medical examiner, he appeared to have a Roman nose. After trudging through the desert on days when temperatures at a nearby airfield reached 106 degrees, Gutierrez began to complain of stomach cramps. He vomited. Gutierrez’s father, who had crossed the border with him, left his son and flagged down a Border Patrol officer. The officer later reported that he and the father found Gutierrez’s body in the wee hours of Monday morning, July 26. Gutierrez was lying on his back under a tree; his head, fittingly enough, was pointed north.

Until a federal judge intervened Wednesday, Arizona's Senate Bill 1070 was set to go into effect with much talk of death. Explaining why the state’s police officers should ask anyone they deem suspicious to produce proof of citizenship, Gov. Jan Brewer spoke vividly of immigrant crime, drug cartels, “bodies in the desert.” In fact, authorities are finding many dead bodies in the Arizona desert these days, but they are not the victims of immigrant murderers. They are the immigrants themselves. What 1070 misses is that it’s far more dangerous to sneak into Arizona than it is to live here.

This month, there have been 58 dead migrants, including Diego Gutierrez, delivered to the medical examiner of Pima County, the large southern Arizona county that stretches from Tucson south to the border. One hundred and fifty-two dead border crossers have turned up in the office since January. To compare that number to much-fussed about immigrant crime statistics, 152 is more than the total number of people murdered in Phoenix, by anyone, in all of 2009. And if July’s migrant death toll won't reach the record total of July 2005, when the remains of 68 dead border-crossers turned up, Dr. Bruce Parks, the county’s chief medical examiner, told me he was concerned enough that he ordered a refrigerated truck to be parked outside his office to store the overflowing bodies.

Parks is a trim, balding man, and when I met him in his office Tuesday he was listening to jazz standards. When he performed on autopsy on Gutierrez's body the day before, Parks found him sadly unremarkable. Gutierrez had on blue jeans, a t-shirt, and sneakers, and he was carrying a Mexican voter registration card. He had scratches on his wrist, maybe from a cholla cactus or from sleeping under a mesquite tree. Parks showed me two photographs of Gutierrez’s body. The first was taken out in the desert, a body bag unzipped to reveal Gutierrez’s still-vital face. The second photo was taken by Parks himself some hours later at his office. Gutierrez’s face had turned a greenish-red color, and his chest and shoulders were marbled with blue lines. When Parks touched Gutierrez’s skin, he recalled, it gave way easily, because his body had filled with gas. There were no signs of trauma, which means Gutierrez had almost certainly died of hyperthermia. He was too hot.

Gutierrez is far away from the debate over 1070, but maybe he shouldn’t be. It’s a longstanding gambit of politicians—especially Arizona politicians—to say it’s easy for an immigrant to cross into the United States. But it’s probably harder to cross into Arizona and stay here than ever. After border-security pushes in California and Texas redirected migrant traffic to Arizona, the feds beefed up defenses in border cities like Nogales, built parts of a border wall—and Barack Obama has ordered more than 500 National Guardsmen sent to the Arizona border on August 1. Those measures, in turn, have pushed the migrant traffic into remote desert, into the Altar Valley to the east or the sprawling Tohono O’odham Indian Reservation to the west. It's telling that while the number of border crossers into Arizona has decreased in recent years due to the recession, the number of migrant deaths has gone up.

For an Arizona politician, the border is everything. For an immigrant, it is merely a starting line. After crossing the border, an immigrant in Arizona enters a dangerous neutral zone full of Border Patrol agents, jittery locals, and dangerous plants and reptiles. According to Dan Millis, a volunteer with No More Deaths, a group that provides water and food for immigrants in the desert, this zone can stretch for 30 miles depending on which of the spider web of migrant trails the immigrant follows toward a city or a highway.

Diego Gutierrez died in the neutral zone, and Millis and I drove out to the spot where his father flagged down the Border Patrol to get a sense of what he experienced. The Sonoran Desert has become such a reliable morgue that No More Deaths volunteers are always prepared to stumble upon bodies, Mills said, and “everybody thinks about it.” Millis is tall and bearded with twinkling eyes that disguise a thoughtful demeanor. He told me that he, too, discovered a body. In 2008, Millis and three friends were taking food to a migrant trail in the Altar Valley when they came upon the decomposing remains of a 14-year-old Mexican girl. The girl was lying on her back and her feet were floating in a puddle.

The remains matched the description of a girl named Josseline Janiletha Hernandez Quinteros who had gone missing three weeks before. She was easily identified because her sweatpants had “Hollywood” written on the seat. It had pleased Mills to provide closure for Hernandez’s family, some of whom would later come to the site to mark it as a memorial. But the act of discovery also weighed heavily on him. “It’s sort of a curse to find somebody dead,” he said.

After a two-hour drive through the reservation, past border patrolmen peeking into cars and scanning the horizon with binoculars, we came to the appointed spot, the 15th milepost on Route 21. Despite the lingering pall of death, the place was quite beautiful. The sun was making its final approach in the west, turning that part of the sky chalk-white and the eastern sky a deep, marine blue. Millis and I could hear bullfrogs burbling in some distant pool. The desert was both more ordinary and more cartoonish than what you see in the movies—an ugly, dusty track would be interrupted by a towering Saguaro cactus. You only had to take a few steps away from the car to feel desperately alone.

To think about the dreadful final moments of migrants like Gutierrez was to remove Arizona's immigration debate from rhetorical abstraction. There is no wave of immigrant crime in Arizona. Phoenix, according to the FBI, has one of the lowest rates of violent crime in the country. No Arizona county coroner has reported a beheaded crime victim in the desert, as Jan Brewer ominously charged. And yet when confronted with a bona fide epidemic in its southern desert, Arizona has chosen to punt.

As we looked around, I recalled something Bruce Parks, the medical examiner, had told me. When the truck bearing Gutierrez’s body came into his office, it was also carrying the bodies of three Guatemalan immigrants. Two of them had probably died like Diego, due to the hyperthermia. According to the field report, the third immigrant, adrift in a vast, hot desert, had hanged himself.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

US border violence: Myth or reality?

BBC News
July 28, 2010
by Katie Connolly

Once upon a time, Spanish settlers named the crossing El Paso Del Norte - the pass to the north.

The border city of El Paso, Texas, lies along the Rio Grande, in the chasm between two inhospitable mountains.

Each day, thousands of people in cars, buses and on foot cross the short bridge that connects El Paso with its Mexican sister city, Juarez, one of the world's most dangerous places.

In the past two years, more than 5,000 people have been murdered in Juarez as drug-related crime has soared.

Politicians, including Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, tend to portray border towns as being pushed to crisis point.

"We see this crime on a daily basis. The federal government must respond more effectively, step up their enforcement and protection of the border before more American blood is shed," Mr Abbott told Fox News.

"It is more dangerous to walk the streets of Juarez, a few blocks from El Paso, than it is to walk the streets of Baghdad. There is a very serious problem that is beginning to bulge at our borders and put American lives at risk."

In mid-July, President Barack Obama ordered 1,200 National Guard troops to patrol the border, just days after a car bomb exploded in northern Juarez, very near El Paso.

Texas Governor Rick Perry called that deployment "grossly insufficient". Many politicians are calling for even more troops.

But the mayor of El Paso, John Cook, isn't one of them.

Second safest city

"The reality is we really don't need the help on this side of the border. We probably have every kind of federal law enforcement agency that you can think of. We're an extremely safe community," Mr Cook says.

Despite Juarez's murder toll, in El Paso, local authorities have recorded just two murders this year. In 2009 there were 11.

"Logically it would seem that if you have violence on one side of the border then you're going to have spillover on the other side," says Mr Cook. "But the reality is that we don't."

According to FBI crime statistics, El Paso is the second safest city in America. Crime rates there have dropped 36% over the past 10 years.

Other cities close to the border, including San Diego in California and Phoenix in Arizona, have similarly experienced declines in violent crime.

Over the same period, federal agencies have beefed up their presence along the border, and a 2,000-mile fence is slowly being constructed.

The fence near El Paso is 16-18 feet (4.9-5.5m) high, made of rust-coloured steel mesh. There are 2,700 border police in this sector, monitoring the border day and night, and a raft of FBI, CIA and drug enforcement agents.

Mr Cook questions the need for more troops, given that current border security levels appear to have been effective at containing drug violence south of the border.

Additionally, both he and local border enforcement officials believe that the leaders of drug cartels do not believe it is in their interest to bring the violence north.

Drug barons know that the response from the US government would be swift and heavy, and further hinder their ability to smuggle drugs into the lucrative American market.

Locals worry that with an even heavier security presence in town, El Paso risks becoming like Cold War Berlin, a riven city, its character disrupted by an imposing divider wall.

They believe politicians who don't live on the border fail to appreciate the deep interconnectedness of cities like Juarez and El Paso, which Mr Cook describes as "one city joined by a border".

So with crime rates declining and the border stable, how has this relatively safe Texan city found itself in the centre of a political firestorm over border violence, and the Obama administration's plans to deal with it?

Politics and fear

Border historian David Romo says it is a pattern. He's seen politicians fanning fears about the border before.

The first calls to build a border fence in El Paso to secure the city came in 1908. Back then, the fear was Chinese immigrants. In World War II, politicians worried about Germans streaming across.

These days, it's Mexicans who fuel unease. Mr Romo says that during times of economic distress, the border and the immigrants who cross it are used as scapegoats. He believes history is repeating itself, and politicians are using the same rhetoric they have for decades.

"It happens that every time an election year comes up, they know that creating fear and hysteria about the border will drive a wedge," Mr Romo says.

"In some ways it's cheap vote-getting. There is this cycle of kind of nativist hysteria that is very profitable for politicians. Nothing gets votes like the politics of fear."

Mr Romo says he's not seen evidence of violence infiltrating the El Paso community. He argues that the immigrants who make a new life across the border are motivated to act within the law because they fear being deported.

While Arizona Governor Jan Brewer blames immigrants, illegal and otherwise, for violent crimes and burglaries, Mr Romo says that, ironically, those immigrants have the most incentive to be law-abiding. They don't want to draw attention.

Bleak outlook

Although fears of spillover violence aren't substantiated by crime data, they are having a real impact on the economy of El Paso.

"From an economic development perspective, it's been very negative for us," Mr Cook said.

He has difficulty convincing new businesses to set up in El Paso because of the violence in Juarez. The first question he gets asked in business meetings is usually "is it safe?"

"They don't pay attention to the fact that we are the second safest large city in the United States," he says.

"We've had people who have looked to locating here with their companies and we have to convince them that it's a safe place. They almost don't believe you."

The longer the violence continues in Juarez, the bleaker the outlook becomes for El Paso, despite its impressive safety record.

For now, there's little more Mayor Cook can do but wait.

America's safest cities, 2009
1.Honolulu, Hawaii
2.El Paso, Texas
3.New York City, New York
4.San Jose, California
5.Austin, Texas
6.San Diego, California
7.Seattle, Washington
8.Portland, Oregon
9.Denver, Colorado
10.Los Angeles, California
Source: CQ Press City Crime Rankings 2009-2010

Cities with highest crime, 2009
1.Detroit, Michigan
2.Memphis, Tennessee
3.Baltimore, Maryland
4.Washington, DC
5.Atlanta, Georgia
6.Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
7.Indianapolis, Indiana
8.Columbus, Ohio
9.Milwaukee, Wisconsin
10.Dallas, Texas
Source: CQ Press City Crime Rankings 2009-2010

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Agaves restored to stretch damaged by US fence work

Arizona Daily Star
July 27, 2010
by Tony Davis

Volunteers planted 1,300 baby agaves near the Mexican border over the weekend where 4,000 agaves were torn out two years ago to build the border fence.

The plantings at Coronado National Memorial represent the first major effort in Arizona, and among the first in the Southwest, to start compensating for the environmental effects of the fence lining parts of the Mexican border.

Over the next three years, the $275,000 project will plant about 4,500 agaves at Coronado.

More restoration money could arrive soon. Officials of the Interior Department and the Department of Homeland Security expect to sign an agreement by the end of August to send $6.8 million in federal money to the Southwest for a half-dozen such projects in Arizona and more in other states, said Jenny Burke, a Homeland Security spokeswoman. That will be the first installment of $50 million, already appropriated but not yet released, to do more borderlands restoration work in future years.

The projects will be geared toward protecting imperiled species, said Susan Sferra, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist. At Coro-nado, the endangered lesser long-nosed bat would benefit from agave plantings. At Organ Pipe National Monument, the endangered Sonoran pronghorn would gain from a restoration project that's expected to get money. From Naco to Sasabe, a third project will use remote cameras to try to photograph endangered jaguars, Sferra said.

In Arizona, the federal government has built 124 miles of fences and 183 miles of vehicle barriers along the state's 378 miles of Mexican border. Along the entire, 2,000-mile, U.S.-Mexico border, the feds have built about 646 miles of fences, walls and vehicle barriers.

Last Saturday, about 100 volunteers showed up at Coronado, about 25 miles south of Sierra Vista, to plant the 3-inch-long by 3-inch-wide Palmer's agaves. The plants, which bloom once every 15 to 20 years, replace destroyed agaves of up to 20 years old and up to 3 feet long by 3 feet wide, said Chris Roberts, a National Park Service biologist at the memorial.

The agaves are the main food source at the memorial for the lesser long-nosed bat, which lives there in large numbers, including 20,000 in an abandoned gold mine. The National Park Service has financed this project out of its own budget.

"This sort of restoration is unfortunately pretty rare - a lot more needs to be done," said Dan Millis, an activist who works for the Sierra Club's Borderlands Campaign in Tucson. "I'm happy to see this restoration moving forward, but it's a drop in the bucket, if you look at the entire impacts along the border wall."

At Organ Pipe, authorities plan to install temporary plastic or steel tanks to provide water to pronghorns. That would be to compensate for the border fence's having severed the animal's north-south migration route and other activities along the border including those of illegal immigrants, said Mark Sturm, the monument's resource-management chief. The most recent survey in 2008 found 68 pronghorns in the wild; the number is probably larger today because fawns have been born and some adults released from captivity since then, says the Arizona Game and Fish Department.

Organ Pipe officials will also try to restore 84 acres affected by fence construction, by planting palo verde, creosote, ironwood and other desert vegetation. They will transplant saguaros, organ pipe cacti and other plants that were moved from the fence area to nurseries at the time the land was cleared, Sturm said.

"This is a very rural environment, and the effects of all these things are poorly understood at this time," Sturm said of the border fence and other immigration- and border security-related activities. "We're trying to help the species get through at this difficult time, during a prolonged drought. Having the water available hedges our bets to be able to allow them to survive."

Overall, it's hard to say how far the new restoration projects will go toward compensating for the effects of all the various activities along the border, he said, adding, "It's a lot more than doing nothing."

Friday, July 16, 2010

July migrant deaths could set record

Arizona Daily Star
July 16, 2010
by Brady McCombs

Illegal border crossers are dying at record rates this month.

Since July 1, the Pima County Medical Examiner's Office has handled the bodies of 38 illegal border crossers, said Dr. Bruce Parks, chief medical examiner. That midmonth total puts July on pace to match or break the single-month record of 68 in July 2005.

"I never thought we would see that again," Parks said. "It's scary. Maybe the rain will slow these down."

Parks said his office has been picking up and examining between one and four bodies of illegal immigrants daily since the beginning of the month. Field agents were on their way to pick up four more bodies Thursday, he said. Most of the people are being found recently deceased.

The deadly month puts 2010 even further ahead of the pace from the past three years. From Jan. 1 to July 15, the office has handled 132 bodies of illegal border crossers, up from 93 at the same time last year and 102 in 2008.

It's been a deadly decade for illegal immigrants trying to cross through Arizona. The bodies of more than 1,750 men, women and children have been discovered since 2001 - about 175 a year.

The Pima County Medical Examiner's Office has handled about 1,600 of them.

The fact that the deaths continue at such high numbers despite widespread indications that fewer people are crossing the border has led many experts to conclude that illegal border crossers face a deadlier trek than ever across Arizona's desert.

Apprehensions in the Border Patrol's Tucson Sector have decreased each of the past five years; remittances to Mexico have declined and anecdotal reports show the economic recession has slowed illegal immigration. Yet more people are dying than ever.

Border-county law enforcement, Mexican consular officials, Tohono O'odham tribal officials and humanitarian groups say the buildup of border fencing, technology and agents has caused illegal border crossers to walk longer distances in more treacherous terrain, increasing the likelihood that people will get hurt or fatigued and left behind to die.

The Border Patrol disagrees that it's pushing illegal immigrants into more hazardous terrain and points to its rescue efforts as evidence that its presence prevents deaths rather than causes them.

Fox News played by the Center for Immigration Studies

Media Matters for America
July 16, 2010
by Jocelyn Fong

When a news outlet doesn't do their research, it's easy to get duped. And that's just what happened yesterday, when the Center for Immigration Studies got Fox News to repeatedly promote its "mini-documentary," "Hidden Cameras on the Arizona Border 2: Drugs, Guns, and 850 Illegal Aliens."

The video features footage from hidden cameras placed in the Tucson sector of Arizona, along trails frequently used by people who entered the country illegally. According to the video, the cameras captured "about 850 illegal aliens" in "60 days between February and March 2010." CIS says of its production: "At minimum, the inescapable conclusion is that hidden cameras reveal a reality that illegal-alien activity is escalating."

Well if CIS says such a conclusion is, "at minimum," "inescapable," Fox News shouldn't waste their time verifying the claim, right? How I wish it weren't so.

Over the course of three of Fox News' "straight news" programs, the hosts and correspondents channeled CIS's claims, treating the 10-minute documentary as groundbreaking. Bill Hemmer described the video as "shocking," Megyn Kelly called it "stunning," correspondent Molly Hennenberg uncritically reported that CIS "says these videos show the escalating illegal alien activity," and Bret Baier said the film "shows the situation along the border getting worse." Trace Gallagher further suggested that the video is evidence that "the feds" are not protecting the lands that appear in the video.

While Fox made a lot of conclusions, they certainly didn't provide a lot of facts. To a real news organization, it might have been a red flag that part of the evidence CIS provides for the claim that "illegal-alien activity is escalating" is a Power Point presentation about environmental damage that is six years old.

More notably, Fox News didn't even try to provide context for the number of undocumented immigrants that appear in the video. "850 illegal aliens" over "60 days" sure sounds like a lot. But in the Tucson Sector, where the hidden cameras were placed, Border Patrol apprehended 449,654 illegal immigrants in fiscal year 2001, the year Bush took office [Associated Press 10/01/02]. That's 1,232 people every day. In 2006, there were 1,074 apprehensions per day in the Tucson sector.

By fiscal year 2009, the number of Tucson sector apprehensions was down to 241,600, or 662 per day, reflecting a drop in the number of illegal immigrants attempting to enter the United States, due to the recession and increased enforcement. (The Southwest border and the Tucson sector are now policed by more Border Patrol agents than ever before.)

The number of illegal immigrants apprehended in the Tucson sector in 2009 was a 10-year-low and still 47 times the number of people who appear in the CIS video.

In short, the "mini-documentary" tells us nothing.

And yet Fox News says we should be shocked. What's truly shocking is that Fox has no understanding of what's been happening along the Arizona border for the past decade. And that instead of tracking down the relevant information, the network instead reproduces the claims of the Center for Immigration Studies, a group with a clear agenda, without blinking an eye (or asking question).

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Border Patrol agents seize 53 bundles of marijuana

Yuma Sun
July 13, 2010
by James Gilbert

Yuma Sector Border Patrol agents seized more than $800,000 of marijuana on Saturday morning from a vehicle that had illegally entered the country.

Agent Shaun Kuzia, a spokesman for the Yuma Sector, said agents assigned to the Yuma Station detected the illegal entry of a 1991 GMC Yukon sport utility vehicle just before 5 a.m. about 30 miles east of the San Luis Port of Entry.

Kuzia said the suspected smugglers drove the SUV into the country after damaging and removing a portion of the vehicle barriers in the area.

Agents responding to the area reported that the occupants abandoned the SUV just north of the border fence and fled back into Mexico on foot to avoid arrest.

Kuzia said the vehicle contained 53 plastic-wrapped bundles of marijuana that weighed 1,117 pounds, with an estimated street value of $885,800.

The SUV was seized by the Border Patrol and the bundles of marijuana were turned over to the Drug Enforcement Administration.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Rio Grande communities brace for floodwaters

Associated Press
July 9, 2010
by Christopher Sherman and Michelle Roberts

RIO GRANDE CITY, Texas — As a strong storm dumped rain on the already high Rio Grande, those living downstream braced for a torrent of water that has led to the closure of two international bridges and evacuations on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border further up the river.

Residents of some neighborhoods in the downstream towns of Roma and La Grulla were being evacuated in anticipation of floodwaters. Shelters were readied for residents of low-lying neighborhoods in several communities. And the last hand-drawn ferry on the U.S.-Mexico border was hauled out of the Rio Grande's swift and rising waters for the second time this week.

A tropical depression that came ashore just north of the mouth of the Rio Grande on Thursday was expected to add 6 inches to 8 inches of rain to rivers and reservoirs in south Texas and northern Mexico already swollen from the heavy rains dropped by Hurricane Alex last week.

In Rio Grande City in Starr County, the river reached 52 1/2 feet, just over flood stage early Friday. A flash flood warning was scheduled to remain in effect for the lower Rio Grande Valley until Friday night.

Starr County Emergency Operations Director Gene Falcon said flooding from the river likely would effect farmland in the area, but the larger problem would be what the river did to a local tributary, the Arroyo Los Olmos along the east side of town.

"The river level will be so high that it will start backing up (the creek)," Falcon said.

It already was starting to happen late Thursday as water in the creek appeared stagnant and possibly even moving slightly upstream, away from the Rio Grande. Some residents in neighborhoods along the scrub-choked creek were beginning to move valuables to higher ground.

At the Retama Manor nursing home, administrators waited for local emergency officials to advise them of any risk posed by the Rio Grande. The facility sits next to an international bridge on the banks of the river, just feet from the swift-moving water.

Nan Impink, a spokeswoman for the facility, said a plan is in place to move residents if there is a danger of flooding.

"For us that's an option of last choice because it's very disruptive to patients," she said.

The International Boundary and Water Commission, which operates dams, reservoirs and levees along the Rio Grande, increased the amount of water released from Falcon Dam, just west of Roma, on Thursday, while also diverting part of the river's flow into a wide floodway near Mission.

Roma's police chief, Jose Garcia, said the water was expected to rise 4 feet to 6 feet overnight, prompting the decision to require about 30 families to evacuate from small subdivisions near the river.

"We just want to make sure we don't get caught by surprise," Garcia said.

Even as the remains of the tropical depression moved west through northern Mexico, heavy rains were forecast for south Texas, said meteorologist Joseph Tomaselli of the National Weather Service in Brownsville.

"We won't begin to dry out until Saturday," he said.

In Los Ebanos, home to the only hand-pulled ferry on a U.S. international border, ferry operator Mark Alvarez was directing Sullivan City firefighters as they attached tow lines and began dragging the ferry toward dry land. Just across the fast-moving river in Mexico, teenagers dove head first into the river from the roof of a submerged building along the water's edge.

"We want to pull it up because we don't want the current to take it," Alvarez said. "We're going to dry dock it as much as possible."

Upstream, authorities in Laredo evacuated several neighborhoods close to the river and a 16-story hotel on the banks Thursday as the river grew to 42-feet deep and water began to creep into some homes. Officials had no tally of flooded homes, but up to 2 feet of water flooded at least a few streets.

The river crested in downtown Laredo overnight but was expected to remain high for the next several days, forcing evacuated residents to stay out and limiting traffic on the city's international bridges.

Tens of thousands of people were forced from their homes in Mexican towns earlier in the week as dam releases dumped torrents of water into flood-swollen rivers to avoid the risk of out-of-control releases following Hurricane Alex.

Humberto Moreira, the governor of the border state of Coahuila, said that more than 20,000 homes had been flooded in his state alone, and about 80,000 people had "lost all of their furniture." A similar number of people had their homes damaged in Nuevo Leon, said that state's Gov. Rodrigo Medina.

Gov. Eugenio Hernandez of the border state of Tamaulipas reported the first fatality there; telling an emergency evaluation meeting attended by President Felipe Calderon in the border city of Matamoros that the victim tried to cross a flooded road.

Access to Sabinas, Mexico in the state of Coahuila was largely blocked Thursday after several bridges on two main highways collapsed after the Rio Sabinas overflowed, said Coahuila state interior minister Armando Luna.

"This has made it difficult to get help to the area," Luna said.

In Laredo, where roughly half of all U.S.-Mexico trade crosses, authorities on Friday reopened one of the international bridges on the northwestern edge of the city, but one downtown bridge remained closed and a second was severely restricted. The vehicle inspection station on the Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, side was under several feet of water.

Traffic was also restricted on the World Trade International Bridge — a route that moves roughly 8,000 tractor trailers a day between the two countries — but it remains open.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

A Reagan Legacy: Amnesty For Illegal Immigrants

National Public Radio - All Things Considered
July 4, 2010

As the nation's attention turns back to the fractured debate over immigration, it might be helpful to remember that in 1986, Ronald Reagan signed a sweeping immigration reform bill into law. It was sold as a crackdown: There would be tighter security at the Mexican border, and employers would face strict penalties for hiring undocumented workers.

But the bill also made any immigrant who'd entered the country before 1982 eligible for amnesty — a word not usually associated with the father of modern conservatism.

In his renewed push for an immigration overhaul this week, President Obama called for Republican support for a bill to address the growing population of illegal immigrants in the country. This time, however, Republicans know better than to tread near the politically toxic A-word.

Part of this aversion is due to what is widely seen as the failure of Reagan's 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act. However, one of the lead authors of the bill says that unlike most immigration reform efforts of the past 20 years, amnesty wasn't the pitfall.

"We used the word 'legalization,' " former Wyoming Sen. Alan K. Simpson tells NPR's Guy Raz. "And everybody fell asleep lightly for a while, and we were able to do legalization."

The law granted amnesty to nearly 3 million illegal immigrants, yet was largely considered unsuccessful because the strict sanctions on employers were stripped out of the bill for passage.

Simpson says the amnesty provision actually saved the act from being a total loss. "It's not perfect, but 2.9 million people came forward. If you can bring one person out of an exploited relationship, that's good enough for me."

Reagan And Amnesty

Nowadays, conservative commentators like Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh often invoke the former president as a champion of the conservative agenda. Sean Hannity of Fox News even has a regular segment called "What Would Reagan Do?"

Simpson, however, sees a different person in the president he called a "dear friend."

Reagan "knew that it was not right for people to be abused," Simpson says. "Anybody who's here illegally is going to be abused in some way, either financially [or] physically. They have no rights."

Peter Robinson, a former Reagan speechwriter, agrees. "It was in Ronald Reagan's bones — it was part of his understanding of America — that the country was fundamentally open to those who wanted to join us here."

Reagan said as much himself in a televised debate with Democratic presidential nominee Walter Mondale in 1984.

"I believe in the idea of amnesty for those who have put down roots and lived here, even though sometime back they may have entered illegally," he said.

Now, Amnesty Is Out; Border Security Is In

More than 20 years later, the Republican Party has changed its tune. President Obama's call for bipartisanship on the immigration issue was answered by Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell. A bipartisan effort would be possible, he said, if Obama "would take amnesty off the table and make a real commitment to border and interior security."

But Simpson, a fellow Republican who served in the Senate with McConnell from 1986 to 1997, says calling for tighter borders is a tried-and-true tactic of politicians unwilling to confront the realities of a growing illegal population.

"That's always the palliative that makes people feel good," he says. "You just say, 'Well, we're still dinkin' around with immigration, so since we can't seem to get anything done and our constituents are raising hell — how do we get re-elected?' Well, you just put some more money into the border."

Robinson says Reagan's own diaries show the president found the idea of a militantly staffed border fence difficult to take. In a private meeting with then-President Jose Lopez Portillo of Mexico in 1979, Reagan wrote that he hoped to discuss how the United States and Mexico could make the border "something other than the location for a fence."

Fix It Before You Overhaul It

These days, Republicans are also calling for existing laws to be toughened up, which Reagan would have agreed with, Robinson says. In fact, Robinson says, he would have been so upset at the federal government's failure to make good on the 1986 reform that he would have demanded for that law to be fixed first before instituting a new overhaul.

"He, too, would have been right there in saying, 'Fix the borders first.' " Where he would have differed, Robinson says, is his welcoming attitude toward immigrants.

"He was a Californian," Robinson says. "You couldn't live in California ... without encountering over and over and over again good, hard-working, decent people — clearly recent arrivals from Mexico."

That the U.S. failed to regain control of the border — making the 1986 law's amnesty provision an incentive for others to come to America illegally — would have infuriated Reagan, Robinson says.

"But I think he would have felt taking those 3 million people and making them Americans was a success."