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Arizona immigration law ignores migrant deaths

Guest Blogger

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.”

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By 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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The Mexicans migrants took a big risk to cross a hazardous stretch of desert and pay dangerous, unreliable coyotes to transport them. A mother allows her 14 year old daughter to take an irresponsible risk to her safety and life and ends up dead. True migrants may have died but they made the decision to take a high risk and lost. For what purpose? Are these people starving? No, Mexico is the 12th largest economy and in fact, obesity rather than starvation is a big problem. In contrast Krenz was a rancher on his own property murdered in cold blood in broad daylight in an area of the country the Federal Government failed to protect. The migrants would also have lived if the US border was sealed and the couldn't have made their dangerous journey.

Posted by: ScottD2 | April 27, 2010 5:55 AM | Report abuse

What can you do with people who absolutely refuse to stop making this very dangerous trip? I feel sorry for the children but the adults are certainly aware of the risks they take. We can't stop drug addicts from consuming drugs either. They are not babies and according the law can't be forced to stop.

Honestly, a little analyzation would tell anyone this is the case.

Posted by: JudiBug | April 27, 2010 7:11 AM | Report abuse

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Posted by: GalliaAdena | April 27, 2010 7:29 AM | Report abuse

Immigrants have always been required to carry their Green Cards with them.

Did someone abolish that law or something while I wasn't watching?

Posted by: muawiyah | April 27, 2010 7:40 AM | Report abuse

State Sen. Russell Pearce, who’s made a career out of enacting anti-immigrant legislation

That's a lie. He has no problem with LEGAL immigration. His concern is with the invasion of Arizona by ILLEGAL Aliens who have no right to be in the US.

Posted by: bnichols6 | April 27, 2010 8:56 AM | Report abuse

There are five billion people in the world living in countries poorer than Mexico. Some of these fly, walk, or take a boat to Mexico to then make the dangerous crossing. Others do dangerous things such as stow away in the wells of airplane wheels. There is simply NO WAY to accommodate everyone in the world who wishes to come here. That some die in the attempt is all the more reason to TIGHTEN enforcement, especially interior enforcement. If you know you can't get a job once you get here and will never be able to "become legal" why would you risk the trip?

Posted by: Ali4 | April 27, 2010 9:09 AM | Report abuse

The tone of this article is interesting. The U.S. immigration service and its efforts to combat illegal immigration are at fault for the deaths of these people? And of course the new immigration law passed by Arizona will make it worse. What a load of BS. Where is the personal responsibility? How is the it the U.S. immigration authorities fault that these people have died? Did someone force them to illegally cross the border in these harsh desert and mountainous areas? As somone above said what kind of parent lets their 14 year go off by themselves to try to illegally cross the border into another country? You feel bad for the illegals that die trying to cross the border but they chose to take that chance and could have avoided it by staying home. I also feel bad for all the people getting killed on the U.S. side of border due to all the illegal activity that goes hand in hand with the human smuggling industry. Station the U.S. military in enough numbers on the border until it's sealed and presto no more illegal immigrants dieing in the desert.

Posted by: RobT1 | April 27, 2010 9:22 AM | Report abuse

AZ immigration law & the cruelty of the cluelessly pious liberal-neocon media.

"... escalating deaths of [illegal] migrants who are coming to the United States [illegally] only to work [illegally] or re-unite with their families [who quite possibly came here illegally].

Thanks to thinking like this, for decades the United States might as well have had a huge billboard at the edge of the desert that reads: "JOBS! JOBS! JOBS! but don't cross."
- - - -
Border Enforcement + Immigration Moratorium = Job, Crime and Eco Sanity.

Posted by: tma_sierrahills | April 27, 2010 9:43 AM | Report abuse

As the author of this piece refers to them, the “migrants” that are caught trying to smuggle their minor children into the US such as 14 year old Josseline Hernandez, should be charged with Felony Child Endangerment instead of receiving a slap on the hand and repatriation. It is regrettable that anyone dies in the desert, but it is purely the fault of the illegal immigrant for choosing to take the known risk. Illegal immigration is a serious problem that needs to be dealt with or it will never stop. It is not an innocent crime and the biggest victim is the law abiding US tax payer that has been forced to subsidized millions of impoverish illegal immigrants.

Posted by: BrianSDCA | April 27, 2010 11:07 AM | Report abuse

It is time to end the entire immigration debate and associated migrant deaths and police abuce of power by instituting five key measures:

1 … create a guest worker program, giving first opportunity for ALL of the jobs involved to citizens first and limiting them, as necessary, as unemployment requires. This would allow guest workers to enter and leave the country at will and with dignity through standard ports of entry, without adverse effects to the American public, turning an adversarial relationship into a cooperative one.

2 … severe criminal sanctions for employers of illegal aliens outside of guest worker limits.

3 … remove the question of amnesty from government's hands and the corruption of politics by requiring a 75% majority public vote on ALL increases in immigration as well as amnesty for illegal aliens.

4 … repeal the obsolete provisions of the 14th Amendment making anchor babies citizens. Our creation of anchor babies is tantamount to shooting ourselves in the foot. We must stop it.

5 … zero “positive” rights and zero entitlements beyond emergency medical care and other necessities for all non-citizens. Tax employers of guest workers to pay for emergency health care and other unavoidable expenses associated with the workers’ presence in America, effectively adding these costs where they belong – to the products produced.

I realize that this would throw a monkey wrench into the left's plans to import voters as well as corporate interest in getting cheap labor, but it is long past time.

Posted by: RUKidding0 | April 27, 2010 11:19 AM | Report abuse

When some one intentionaly breaks the law they take the risk of something going wrong and getting caught or hurt in the proccess. These people that cross the dessert know there are risks involved. The bottom line is they are breaking a law and that was by choice. They would not be in danger of dying in the dessert if they were to take the correct proccess and become legal. If you rob a bank you take the risk of being shot. You would not have that same risk of being shot if you never attempted to rob the bank in the first place.

Posted by: rainman2 | April 27, 2010 12:33 PM | Report abuse

The only criminals in this case are the renegers. When times were good, these immigrants were extended a de facto invitation. They came to work for meager wages, and in return our government didn't give them papers, but with the tacit agreement that since the INS was backlogged, they should just come and the authorities would look the other way. It was condoned and accepted. As soon as the economy got sour, the renegers all started crawling out of the woodwork, screaming "illegal". I say, cool off, and remember that when you point your finger there are three pointing at you.

Posted by: johnnormansp | April 27, 2010 1:03 PM | Report abuse

Under US Law you are responsible for the deaths occurring while you are committing a felony or federal crime. When a burglar dies while breaking into a shop , it is their own fault , not the shop owners. So it is the illegal immigrant's fault for dying out in the desert while breaking US law. Besides I thought Regan's friends ran water stations and handed out "safe maps" to those illegals..

/got to love all the false outage over this attempt to stop rampant crime.

Posted by: vulturetx | April 27, 2010 1:50 PM | Report abuse

its real simple the OBAMA adminstration does work as roofers,carpenders,plumbers,etc and they can relate the illegal immigrants have on jobs

Posted by: kamkize2020 | April 27, 2010 2:06 PM | Report abuse

If they build the original fence as originally designed by Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) Any person trying to creep into America would be caught between the two fences--in the no mans-land--where they would be arrested by the undermanned Border agents. Before the could scale the second fence, they would already be exhausted from scaling the first fence and the flying drones would pick them up immediately. It one downright lie that the single line fence even covers half the distance, as its made up of vehicle barriers and ancient rusted barbed wire. Politicians going back years have the deaths of Robert Kruntz, Rancher-US Border Patrol, Sheriff and deputies who have been murdered along the region.

Posted by: infinity555 | April 27, 2010 3:33 PM | Report abuse

This is a perfect argument for completing the border fence. The super-fence would keep these desperados on their side of the border and would actually save lives.

Of course no fence is foolproof. The border would still be patrolled by border guards and maybe the National Guard as well.

Build the super-fence and save the illegals from death and prosecution.

Posted by: battleground51 | April 27, 2010 5:20 PM | Report abuse

Even the liberal readership of the Washington Post approves of the Arizona, anti-illegal immigrant law at 52%.

Arizona citizens approve at 70% and America approves at a solid 60%.

The WaPo, editorial gang is out of touch and out to lunch on this issue.

Give it up boys! It's a losing issue for your beloved Democrats.

It is finally illegal to be illegal.

Posted by: battleground51 | April 27, 2010 5:29 PM | Report abuse

Steven, are you serious? Apparently, you want the state of Arizona to come up with a way to prevent foreigners who illegally cross our border from suffering the consequences of their actions. At the same time, you say the Governor should not be concerned with 600,000 illegal aliens in that state. Why? Are you un-American?

Posted by: allamer1 | April 27, 2010 6:42 PM | Report abuse

The illegal need to be stopped and stopped now. No immigration reform until the border is closed and illegal immigration is stopped. Texas, New Mexico, California and other states need to perform the duties that the Federal government won't. Tax payers need to reconsider paying taxes to the federal government if it won't perform it's duties.

Posted by: richard36 | April 27, 2010 6:46 PM | Report abuse

"past the wall, past the stadium lights" Wall? Stadium lights? There are a few, short sections of wall here on the border in Arizona, no stadium lights that I've ever seen. They actually cross through a barbed wire cattle fence by the light of the moon.

Posted by: AZHobo | April 28, 2010 6:51 AM | Report abuse

What part of "illegal" do you Libs not get?
[For a light hearted take on our present peril]

Posted by: libertyatstake | April 28, 2010 12:18 PM | Report abuse

I see the effect of the illegal problem every day in my crowded classroom. All we ask is they follow the legal way to come here. Instead, we have many families thinking it is their right to have, for free, all we offer our citizens-- on the back of the AZ taxpayer! Our state is going broke! Try taking a trip o the emergency room, or any government agency like the Health Department. We also have a drug war going on near the borders. Let's see how you all like it when they move out of AZ & burden your state instead. If they want to live here, come legally!

Posted by: azteacher3 | April 29, 2010 5:04 PM | Report abuse

My parents both came over from Germany. They had to have sponsors to do so. That way someone was financially and legally responsible for them here until they became citizens. Which they did. All of you people who think we should just let everybody in should sign up to be sponsors. Since you feel some moral obligation to these people, why not personally support them and stop making the rest of us pay, too?

Posted by: nancyinAZ | April 29, 2010 8:27 PM | Report abuse

I would love to see where battleground51 got his statistics about the approval of the law in Arizona. The cities of Tucson and Phoenix are suing to repeal it. I'm a Tucson resident and I don't know anyone who approves of this horror.

To NancyinAZ - my parents both came over from Europe too (in my case Austria), as escapees from the Holocaust, but they didn't lose their compassion gene when they emigrated. They would have been appalled at this new law. As am I.

Posted by: TucsonWriter | April 30, 2010 9:45 AM | Report abuse

2 Points: 1-The compassion evident in your article is not an attribute much favored in our culture for some time now, as many of the comments in response indicate. Were we more concerned as a nation with preventable deaths, we would already have a health system that would prevent tens of thousands dying here for lack, or denial of, coverage and treatment. There would not be so many hungry children here. 2- Critical thinking with regard to the root causes (Mexico's government) of such a flood of people desperate enough to take such risks is also absent. A long enough, secure wall or enough troops is out of reach, especially now. As we deal here with a horrible economic crisis brought on by unbridled corruption, we should be able to see that our neighbors reflect what a continuation of that situation can bring.

Posted by: inbrief | April 30, 2010 1:16 PM | Report abuse

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