Migrant Deaths Aren’t “New,” But the Intentional Default of Border Policy
Recently there's been a lot of hype over the news on the rising migrant death toll along the U.S.-Mexico border, and publications have been remarkably giddy over it. The New York Times ran an article in late May titled, 'Arizona Desert Swallows Migrants on Riskier Paths.' USA Today ran a similar article titled, 'Big Surge in Border Crossing Deaths Reported.' Earlier this week the Guardian ran another article titled, ''Death map' of deserts aims to save lives of desperate Mexican migrants.'
But, what I don’t get is why this is news- ‘news’ here meaning it is (duh) new. I have to point this out because the rising death toll of migrants attempting to cross the border is NOT new. In fact, it’s incredibly old!
Here’s a list of headlines (that could go on and on, but which I’ve shortened for your convienece) that have covered this ‘new’ story topic before:
- ‘Migrants Dying on the U.S. Mexico Border’ - courtesy of the New York Times (2012)
- ‘Immigration to the U.S. Stagnant, But Climbing Migrant Death Toll Breaks Records’ – courtesy of Colorlines.com (2012)
- ‘Migrant Deaths at the Border on the Rise’ – courtesy of Colorlines.com (2010)
- ‘Illegal Crossing Deaths Double Last Year’s’ – courtesy of San Diego Union-Tribune (2008)
- ‘The U.S./Mexican Border Has Become a Sieve of Death’ – courtesy of Soldier of Fortune Magazine (2004)
- ‘Illegal Immigrant Death Rate Rises Sharply in Barren Areas’ – courtesy of the New York Times (2002)
So, it’s been a sort of odd, and quite frankly, frustrating experience for me to see article after article report on this rising death toll as if this is the first time we’ve seen this.
For instance, not once did the May New York Times article mention that the New York Times has reported on the very same subject, with close to identical headlines, multiple times before. The article didn’t even mention the running total of deaths along the border (a number more than 5,000), but instead cited only the 2,100 deaths the Humane Borders ‘death map’ has collected since 2001. (What kind of reporting is that?)
At first I didn’t understand why reporters were neglecting to comment on how the surge in migrant deaths along the border is an old, ongoing epidemic. But then I realized the potential political consequences there might be if media were to acknowledge this relentless epidemic.
Migrant deaths along the border are not some sort of rare, unpredictable event. What most Americans don’t know is that the U.S. government is (and has been since 1994) intentionally and strategically channeling undocumented migrants toward lethal terrain, and ultimately their death.
The militarization of the border has only ensured this escalating death rate. In the past five years, the border enforcement budget has expanded from $6 billion to $10.1 billion, adding unmanned drones, hundreds of miles of fencing and vehicle barriers and a huge jump in patrol agents to the equation.
Now migrants are dying more than ever before as they continue to cross lethal frontiers like the Arizona desert and the Rio Grande river. Border Patrol agents have even gone as far as to vandalize life-saving resources such as food, water and blankets that are dispersed about the desert.
In a 2011 New York Times article titled ‘Crossing Over, and Over’ the reporters subliminally acknowledged that the militarization of the border has been a total failure. They wrote, “The number of immigrants found dead in the Arizona desert, from all causes, has failed to decline as fast as illegal immigration has.” And yet, they went on to exemplify their dumb understanding of this interconnected web of death when they wrote, “Has the more aggressive approach — bigger fences, more agents and deportations — contributed to, or diminished, the danger?”