Sunday, April 17, 2011

Undocumented immigrant deaths hit lowest level in six years in Rio Grande Valley

The Monitor
April 16, 2011
by Jared Taylor

McALLEN — The number of Mexican and unidentified undocumented immigrants who died while passing through the Rio Grande Valley has dropped to its lowest level in six years.

But those who track immigration patterns say they cannot identify any clear reasons why the deaths have dropped so low.

The Mexican consulate in McAllen recorded 20 deaths of undocumented immigrants in 2010 — a more than 60 percent drop from the record high seen in 2009.

The Brownsville office of the Mexican consulate also saw a drop — seven deaths, down 36 percent from 2009. The Monitor obtained the statistics through a public information request with the Mexican Secretary of External Relations.

The deaths compare with only slight changes in the number of apprehensions of illegal immigrants in roughly the same time span.

U.S. Border Patrol figures show 59,766 immigrants detained in the 2010 fiscal year — just a 2 percent drop from the same period a year before.

Across the Rio Grande Valley sector — stretching from Starr County to the Gulf of Mexico and north to near Corpus Christi — agents responded to 28 immigrant deaths last year, a 61 percent drop.

Immigrant apprehensions have dropped in the Rio Grande Valley, down 55 percent since the 2005 fiscal year, which saw the highest total since 2000.

The Mexican consulate in McAllen has recorded no illegal immigrant deaths this year. One was recorded at the agency’s Brownsville office.

José Manuel Gutierrez Minera, a spokesman at the Mexican consulate in McAllen, said the improving economy in Mexico and slow job growth in the U.S. may have contributed to the lower number of deaths. And the push to build awareness of the dangers of crossing may have contributed, he said.

But “the central point is we’re not sure exactly of why, but we are very content about it,” Gutierrez said. “There’s no reason exactly.”

Among the Mexican consulate’s 13 offices along the Southwest border that track immigrant deaths, only two — in Del Rio and Tucson, Ariz. — saw an increase last year. Tucson routinely records the most deaths, but last year’s 214 fatalities was the most in six years and up 60 percent from 2009, the Mexican consulate figures show.

Overall, the six Mexican consulates in Texas recorded 69 deaths among immigrants in 2010 — down 53 percent from the year before and the least since 2004, the first year numbers were made available.

Border Patrol installed rescue beacons along commonly used immigrant paths that follow utility lines in rural ranchlands across Brooks County in 2009. The agency also has worked with the Mexican consulate to step up its presence on Spanish-language television and radio stations warning of the dangers of illegal crossings.

Those efforts may have pushed some people to second guess the treacherous trek across the rough terrain of the monte, said Rosalinda Huey, local Border Patrol spokeswoman. But to point directly to that would be speculation, she said.

“That could be a reason, but I can’t speculate and say that’s why” there were fewer deaths, Huey said.


And while the numbers of migrants killed in the U.S. may have dropped, stories of mass graves — many filled with migrants who refused to join drug smugglers — has dominated media coverage in Mexico.

Two large so-called narcofosas have been uncovered on ranches near San Fernando, Tamps., about 80 miles south of Brownsville.

Seventy-two migrants were found shot and buried on a ranch in August 2010. And the death toll has steadily climbed at another series of graves first exposed April 6. As of Friday, 145 bodies had been recovered from those.

Whether that has contributed to the drop in dead immigrants found in the Rio Grande Valley remains to be seen.

Juanita Valdez-Cox, executive director of San Juan-based immigrant advocate La Union del Pueblo Entero, said she has heard more testimonials of Mexicans immigrating without documents to escape the violence.

Also possible, she reckoned, is fewer Central American immigrants unwilling to cross through Mexico after hearing widespread stories of kidnapping and abuse.

“You hear about all the violence in Mexico and the killings of immigrants,” Valdez-Cox said. “Maybe they are not coming because of that, too, that they’re afraid that once they get into Mexico from further south that they couldn’t get across from all the violence.

“If they want to cross, it’s more expensive and they hear it’s more dangerous. But they can still get across.”

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