Death in the desert

The human cost of border security is growing

Although the most unforgiving months of the Arizona summer have come and passed, the harsh climate and rough terrain of the Sonoran Desert along the United States-Mexico border are continuing to take a record toll in human lives.

At this time last year, 139 migrants had died in the desert attempting to cross illegally from Mexico into the U.S. According to the office of the Pima County medical examiner, responsible for handling the bodies of dead border crossers, at least 177 migrants have perished on their journey north this year, a number set to outpace 2005, when a record 216 crossers perished.

The phenomenon of illegal immigration is complex, but it's fair to say that the rising human price along the border is the result of interplay between powerful political and economic forces.

Although Border Patrol agents have reported a drop in the number of illegal immigrants apprehended this year, increasing numbers are dying in the desert. Increased border security has worked to deter illegal immigration, at least in the stretches of the border that are heavily guarded by thousands of agents and high-tech equipment. And as the border has been further militarized, locked down and patrolled, migrants have been forced to cross through rougher, deadlier terrain.

But they have not stopped crossing. The powerful draw of American prosperity remains, and though some may die, an estimated 288,000 immigrants will survive and slip across the border this year.

At the same time, some U.S. citizens are headed south of the border in search of wealth. The New York Times reported this month on the growing trend of American farmers moving agricultural operations to Mexico to take advantage of cheap land and a plentiful workforce. The Department of Labor estimates that more than half of all farmhands employed in the U.S. are illegal immigrants. After the failure of immigration reform legislation in Congress this year, and increasing crackdowns on the employment of immigrants in the U.S., many farmers are more than happy to till their fields in Mexico, where they need not worry about the citizenship status of their workers. American farmers now grow the same crops in Mexico, conforming to the same regulatory standards they would in the United States for far less, and easily import their produce back into the U.S.

Clampdowns along the border without corresponding immigration reform or economic strategy have perverted incentives on both sides of the border fence. Though tough policies have increased security in some regions, the effect has ultimately been to provide illusory security to American citizens and put more and more Mexican migrants in danger.

Meanwhile, the lifeless body of a Mexican woman was found in the desert near Bisbee yesterday. Add one more human life to the cost of border security.

OPINIONS BOARD: Editorials are determined by the Wildcat opinions board and written by one of its members. They are Justyn Dillingham, Allison Hornick, Sarah Keeler, Connor Mendenhall Jerry Simmons and Alison Dumka.


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