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Ripped Off by Smugglers, Groped by Border Patrol: The Nightmares Women Migrants Face

In addition to the danger migrants encounter in the desert, they also have to worry about widespread Border Patrol abuse.

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But the danger often doesn’t end in the desert.  No More Deaths, an organization that aims “to end death and suffering on the U.S./Mexico border through civil initiative,” recently published an extensive report on Border Patrol abuses titled " A Culture of Cruelty." The organization found that the dehumanization of immigrants is actually part of the Border Patrol’s institutional culture. Instances of misconduct are not aberrations, but common practice.

Customs and Border Patrol deny these  accusations and have so far failed to address the abuses. No More Deaths  identified the following human rights violations as being common: limiting or denying water, limiting or denying food, failing to provide necessary medical treatment, and verbal and physical abuse. The list goes on. Many of the practices meet the definition of torture under international law.

Morena, who crossed the Tijuana border when she was 21, says that before she left for the border, people advised her to look like a man to avoid getting raped. In preparation, she cut her hair very short. She said that when she was caught by Border Patrol, she felt most threatened by the pocho (Americanized Mexican) agents. ”The pochos were the worst,” she said. “One grabbed me by the neck and dragged me across the floor. He laughed and called me mugre gallina mojada (“dirty wetback chicken”). He asked me if I was lesbian because of my haircut.” A woman quoted in the  report by No More Deaths said that the guards at a processing center had her strip naked and touched her breasts. These are only a few examples of the abuse women experience at the hands of the U.S. Border Patrol.

And so while the new immigration reform is a great improvement, the roots of the problem still need to be addressed. The U.S. must take responsibility for its participation in NAFTA, which “ pushed Mexicans straight out of their own fields and factories and into the U.S.” None of the women were eager to leave their homes and risk their lives. The Border Patrol must also be accountable for its abuse of undocumented immigrants.

In talking with these women, I was inspired by their bravery and resilience. Contrary to what many people believe about undocumented immigrants, so many of these women are making great contributions to our society. Most of them work hard and try their best to navigate a system that's set up against them. They raise productive American children. I myself am a product of this. Hopefully, their narratives will eventually become a part of the national conversation.

Erika L. Sánchez is a poet and freelance writer living in Chicago.

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