Monday, June 17, 2024

Record numbers of migrants are dying at Mexico-U.S. border

A record high of over 850 migrants died while attempting to enter the United States unlawfully from Mexico in the 12 months to the end of September, according to internal U.S. government data obtained by CBS News.

United States fiscal year 2022 was the deadliest year for migrants recorded by the U.S. government, CBS reported, citing internal Border Patrol statistics that showed that at least 853 migrants perished in the Rio Grande or on U.S. soil after entering that country illegally.

The figure is 56% higher than the previous record of 546 deaths, recorded by Border Patrol in fiscal year 2021, and underscores just how dangerous crossing into the U.S. between official ports of entry can be.

“Many migrants have drowned in the Rio Grande. Others have perished due to the extreme heat in the inhospitable desert terrain along some parts of the U.S. southern border,” CBS reported.

Migrants wade across the Rio Grande between the U.S. and Mexico.
Migrants wade across the Rio Grande between the U.S. and Mexico. File photo

“U.S. officials have also reported deadly falls from border barriers that migrants sometimes climb. But even when migrants successfully enter the U.S., the trek can still be deadly, as illustrated by the deaths of 53 migrants abandoned inside a tractor-trailer in June, the deadliest human smuggling case in U.S. history.”

The aunt of a Peruvian migrant who drowned in the Rio Grande along with eight others in September told CBS that her nephew traveled to the Mexico-U.S. border in pursuit of the “American dream.”

“My nephew’s death has left us devastated,” said Rose Lee, who lives in southern California. “It’s a very tragic death, to travel so far and die in an unknown place.”

A spokeswoman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), which oversees Border Patrol, told CBP that human smugglers — known in Mexico as coyotes or polleros — place migrants lives at risk.

“Smuggling organizations are abandoning migrants in remote and dangerous areas, leading to a rise in the number of rescues but also tragically a rise in the number of deaths,” Cecilia Barreda said in a statement.

“The terrain along the border is extreme, the summer heat is severe, and the miles of desert migrants must hike after crossing the border in many areas are unforgiving.”

Migrant policy analysts told CBS that the data showing there were 853 migrant deaths in fiscal year 2022 was likely an undercount due to data collection limits, while a report published in April by the United States Government Accountability Office said that Border Patrol was not collecting and reporting “complete data on migrant deaths.”

The record number of deaths coincided with a record number of encounters between U.S. authorities and migrants. CBP data shows that almost 2.4 million migrants were intercepted after crossing into the U.S. in fiscal year 2022, with that figure accounting for people who entered the country illegally more than once. It was the first time that more than 2 million migrant arrests were made at the U.S.-Mexico border during a fiscal year.

A holding facility for detained migrants.
A holding facility for detained migrants. U.S. Customs and Border Patrol

CBP statistics show that Border Patrol completed just over 22,000 migrant “rescues” in the same period, a reference to operations to assist illegal border crossers who were in distress and at risk of dying. That figure was 72% higher than in fiscal year 2021.

Theresa Cardinal Brown, managing director of immigration and cross-border policy at the Washington D.C.-based Bipartisan Policy Center, said that crossing the border into the U.S. has become more dangerous, but she also acknowledged that the record number of migrants deaths occurred at a time when a lot more people are trying to enter the country unlawfully.

For decades, U.S. policy has focused on making it more difficult — and consequently more dangerous — for migrants to enter the U.S. illegally, she told CBS. However, Cardinal Brown said that the high number of migrant deaths is also a product of the actions of smuggling networks and the willingness of people to undertake dangerous journeys to escape from poverty and violence in their countries of origin.

Large numbers of Venezuelans, Haitians, Cubans and Central Americans from the northern triangle countries of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador have entered Mexico in recent years to travel to the border with the United States to try and enter that country, either by seeking asylum or crossing illegally.

“… Desperate people do desperate things, and desperate things are often dangerous things,” said Cardinal Brown, a former immigration official with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

“Is there a role that U.S. policy plays? Well, yes. But there’s also the role of migrants in deciding to do this and the smugglers in encouraging it,” she said.

The Mexican government has appeased its United States counterpart by using the National Guard and immigration officers to stop migrants from reaching the northern border, but as the CBP data indicates, many have still made it to the U.S.

Those who have encountered Mexican authorities have been subjected to abuses such as arbitrary detentions, excessive use of force and sexual violence, according to a report published by six non-governmental organizations earlier this year.

“Mexico has opted for the implementation of a migration policy without a human rights focus, making use of the National Guard and other military forces as an apparatus of migration control even when this goes against migration regulations and international human rights law,” the Bajo La Bota (Under the Boot) report said.

“… The National Guard members [carrying out] migration tasks don’t act as guarantors of rights but as agents of containment and deportation or even as generators of risks for migrants and their families.”

With reports from CBS News 

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