Arizona immigration law ignores migrant deaths
Margaret Regan knows the Arizona border tensions up close. The Tucson journalist has written on migration from Mexico over the past decade and has poured her experience into “The Death of Josseline: Immigration Stories from the Arizona-Mexico Borderlands,” published by Beacon Press in February. The book focuses on Josseline Hernandez, a 14-year-old girl whose death during her crossing underscores the danger and chaos in the region. Regan believes Arizona's crackdown on illegal immigration overlooks a serious problem: the rising number of migrant deaths.
By Margaret Regan
When Gov. Jan Brewer of Arizona signed the nation’s harshest anti-immigration law on Friday, she declared that federal policy had left the state dealing with “an unacceptable situation."
That’s about the only thing she got right when she unleashed a law that gives the police unprecedented powers to stop and interrogate anyone they suspect of being an illegal immigrant.
Brewer misidentified the real problem. To her, what’s unacceptable is that as many as 600,000 illegal immigrants are living in Arizona. What she should really be worried about is the deaths of some 2,000 border crossers in the Arizona desert in the past 10 years.
Since the year 2000, the state has been ground zero for immigration. Migrants from Mexico and Central America used to take safer routes through big cities like El Paso and San Diego, but the federal government cracked down on those urban crossings in the mid-90s. After that, migration shifted to the dangerous open terrain in between -- that is, to Arizona.
Migrants by the thousands throng the impoverished towns in northern Sonora, the Mexican state adjoining Arizona, awaiting their chance to slip over the line. If they get past the Border Patrol, past the wall, past the stadium lights, they take their chances hiking through the treacherous mountains and deserts of Arizona. Those who don’t get caught, or give up, or die, make it to a road and a ride arranged by their coyotes – people smugglers – and continue on to cities all over the United States.
There’s no precise way of gauging the numbers who cross successfully. The only hard numbers we have are Border Patrol arrest records, and in the busiest years, agents have apprehended more than 600,000 in the Tucson sector alone.
The government effort to play catch-up has turned southern Arizona into a war zone. In rural towns like Palominas and Arivaca, Border Patrol helicopters clatter overhead and agents bounce up and down the roads in SUVS, disrupting the peace and quiet that once reigned. Agents without warrants freely enter the private property (but not houses) of American citizens living near the border, and they routinely stop American drivers on the highways.
This war zone has casualties to match. This past winter was cold and rainy, and the number of deaths escalated: 86 migrant bodies were found between October 1 and February 28, well above the 53 in the same period in the previous year. The last fatality whose name is known was Edwin Aroldo Estrada, 32. On Feb. 26, he died in Sierra Vista, in Arizona’s Cochise County, of complications from pneumonia.
A month later, on March 27, some 50 miles to the east, an American became one of the border fatalities. Robert Krentz, 58, a well-liked rancher, was shot to death on his land near Douglas. His murder is unsolved, but sheriff’s deputies tracked footsteps from his body 20 miles south to the Mexican border, leading to the conjecture that a Mexican smuggler – either a drug runner or a “coyote” – might be the murderer.
State Sen. Russell Pearce, who’s made a career out of enacting anti-immigrant legislation, took advantage of the furor over the murder to rush through the now-notorious SB 1070. For the first time in America, a whole category of people – immigrants – will be required to carry identity papers, in this case alien registration documents, or face arrest. A police officer cannot rely solely on race in deciding whether to stop someone – but it can be one of the factors.
If the law survives the expected legal challenges, SB 1070 will clog the courts and the jails, and tangle the state in turf disputes with the federal government. It could dump migrants back over the line into the Mexican border towns already struggling to cope with the murderous onslaught of the drug cartels.
Worst of all, the new law will do nothing to solve Arizona’s real and pressing border problems: It addresses neither the growing violence of drug smugglers nor the escalating deaths of migrants who are coming to the United States only to work or re-unite with their families.
It does nothing to prevent the loss of another Krentz or another Aroldo.
And that, for sure, is an “unacceptable situation.”
Steven E. Levingston
April 27, 2010; 5:30 AM ET
Categories: Guest Blogger | Tags: arizona anti-immigration law, arizona immigration bill, deaths of migrants, illegal immigration, racial profiling
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