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Migrant's Death Along Border Raises Concerns, Warnings Over Border Security in Immigration Bill

After being deported, a Mexican migrant died of heat stroke while attempting to re-enter the U.S. through the Arizona desert to reunite with his children.

Photo Credit: Parikh


The following is a transcript originally published in Democracy Now!

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: On Wednesday, the Senate began debate on an immigration reform bill that has at its core a pathway to citizenship for some 11 million immigrants now living in the shadows. But several senators say border security will have to be strengthened in order for it to pass. Already, the current bill would require the Department of Homeland Security to extend border fencing and achieve "effective control" of the Southwest border, defined as continuous surveillance along its entire length and 90 percent effectiveness in stopping illegal crossings. Only once those goals are fulfilled could undocumented immigrants apply for provisional status.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, today we look at the human cost of militarizing the border. This is a clip from a documentary called Dying to Get Back that aired last month on PBS’s Need to Know . It’s the third in a three-part series called Crossing the Line at the Border , and it tells the story of Alfonso Martinez Sanchez, a 39-year-old father of five U.S.-born children. After being deported, Alfonso gets heat stroke while attempting to re-enter the United States through the Arizona desert to reunite with his kids. PBS correspondent John Larson explains how Alfonso’s friend and fellow migrant, Isaac, tried to save him.

JOHN LARSON: Two hours after Alfonso falls ill, Isaac builds a large signal fire to attract the Border Patrol, so Alfonso can be saved. But no luck.

ISAAC: [translated] I thought about staying there with him until sunrise, but I said to myself, "I have to look for help."

JOHN LARSON: He climbs the nearest ridge, hoping to get to a cell signal on Alfonso’s phone.

ISAAC: [translated] And I turned it on, and I implored God. I said, "My god, help him."

JOHN LARSON: He miraculously gets a signal. Soon after, two Border Patrol officers arrive in a truck. Isaac says he tells them they must quickly go together to rescue Alfonso, and tells them exactly where he is. Instead, they arrest him and immediately take Isaac to detention, assuring him that other agents were searching for Alfonso and would rescue him. Thad Bingel, the former chief of staff of Customs and Border Protection, says that if Isaac’s story is true, the agents did not act properly.

THAD BINGEL: It’d be very unusual if they thought the person with them was trying to help them identify a location, that they wouldn’t take advantage of that information. That would not be normal protocol.

JOHN LARSON: Two-and-a-half days after Alfonso got sick, Isaac is deported to Mexico. He immediately calls Alfonso’s family.

GLADYS DOMINGUEZ: Well, in my head, I thought, OK, it’s Saturday night, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday. If he managed to find a tree, stay under the tree, and if he had a little bit of water, he could have stayed alive there.

JOHN LARSON: Alfonso’s daughter Gladys, an American citizen, makes dozens of frantic phone calls to the Border Patrol in Arizona, asking if her father is detained or in the hospital. She says the Border Patrol gives her no answers.

How long was it until somebody said, "OK, here’s exactly who you need to call. Maybe they can help"?

GLADYS DOMINGUEZ: They didn’t say that. They didn’t say that. I kept on researching on the Internet ’til I found BORSTAR.

JOHN LARSON: BORSTAR, the Border Patrol Search, Trauma and Rescue unit.

BORDER PATROL VIDEO: This is the part of U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s mission that rarely makes headlines: rescuing those in trouble along our southern border.