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The Killing Fields
by Jose Latour

Guys, today's article is based on some research that Cynthia, "my shiny, brilliant new assistant," dug up on MSNBC. The information is a little grim, it is very compelling and, I'm afraid, it is indicative of where our national immigration policy seems to be headed.

Let's start off with a sobering fact: according to the statistics kept by the Mexican government, here's a look at the fatalities of Mexicans on the border for the past five years:

1997 - 129 deaths
1998 - 297 deaths
1999 - 358 deaths
2000 - 455 deaths
2001 (through Sept. of that year, the latest statistics available) - 303 deaths

While the 2001 statistic indicates a comparative reduction in border deaths when contrasted with the prior year, the overall pattern is clear: more Mexicans are dying on the border. Why?

According to MSNBC and various other sources we've researched, human rights groups are blaming increased enforcement by the U.S. Border Patrol as a primary reason. But how exactly does a nation's protection of its own border cause the deaths of those seeking to unlawfully enter the country? Moreover, does a nation's sovereign right to control entry onto its own soil carry with it extraordinary responsibilities designed to ensure that, in their desperation, the would-be illegal migrants do not risk life and limb to circumvent the deterrents to their entry?

In 1994, the U.S. Border Patrol launched Operation "Gate Keeper" at the border near San Diego, where the majority of illegal Mexican entries into the United States occur. The operation has resulted in increased manpower, expanded fencing, intensified lighting, and amplified monitoring via underground sensors designed to sense the movement of individuals across the ground. These enforcement tools have resulted in the migrants seeking to cross more difficult terrain to enter the United States. Accordingly, by crossing through more difficult parts of the desert and by the traversing of the Rio Grande, the major causes of death among would-be migrants are drowning and heatstroke according to the California Rural Assistance Foundation.

Now, I have to be careful how I ask this question, but I must ask it:

How can human rights groups blame the U.S. government for the deaths of these individuals when the only thing that the U.S. government has done is increase enforcement, completely appropriate with national sovereignty laws?

In other words, if the U.S. government has a responsibility to leave open easy routes for illegal migration into the United States, we are essentially asking the federal government to give up its sovereign right. By blaming the federal government for these deaths, human rights groups are essentially placing the responsibility for the motivation of illegal migration on the U.S. government, and I respectfully submit to you that is not fair. A cause and effect explanation of the deaths, yes, absolutely! But to blame the U.S. Border Patrol is simply unconscionable.

No sir, the fault for these tragic deaths in the desert and through drowning lies squarely on the groups of cowardly "coyotes," the weasel alien smugglers who take the big bucks to violate our federal laws. They are the primary parties responsible for these tragic deaths.

Secondly, as politically incorrect as it is, the second most responsible parties are the individuals themselves who embark upon these journeys to make an illegal entry. (Yes, I see the tomatoes flying. I understand that these individuals are desperate and seeking new lives in the United States. I further understand that they come from impoverished countries and are seeking better lives, but I also understand that these individuals are consciously making the decision to enter illegally into another country in defiance of that country's laws and, as adult human beings, are making calculated decisions in doing so. For human rights organizations to blame the Border Patrol for the death of an individual who has made such a decision is simply to place blame on the wrong party. Free will exists in these situations.)

Okay, enough with the tomatoes.

In the MSNBC report much is made of the fact that Mr. Bush was courting Mexico's President Fox with vague promises of some sort of amnesty to resolve the status of the estimated three million illegal Mexicans residing in the United States. After September 11, the notion of amnesty for illegal aliens seems as elusive as peace in the Middle East. But consider these numbers and you will understand the nature of the issue:

  • From 1901 - 1970, approximately 1.5 million Mexicans immigrated legally to the United States.

  • From 1981 - 1990, less than nine years, more than 1.6 million Mexicans did the same thing.

  • From 1991 - 1998, 1.9 million immigrated legally.

It is evident that the number of Mexicans immigrating legally to the United States is certainly not decreasing. The number immigrating illegally is equally on the rise.

In fiscal year 2000, from October 1, 2000 until September 30, 2001, the U.S. Border Patrol apprehended 1,643,679 illegal aliens along the border. The largest increase, according to MSNBC, has been in Arizona while there was a decline along the California border, historically the busiest entry point for illegal aliens into the U.S.

What does all this mean for the rest of us who are not from Mexico but who are concerned about immigration policy? It's hard to tell right now, but these are the questions that must be answered in the coming months and years:

  • How will the U.S. formulate an immigration policy that gives Mexico the special treatment she deserves as our southern neighbor with very unique immigration needs?

  • How will the U.S. formulate an ongoing evolution of trade policy addressing the reality that Mexico's illegal immigration stems almost solely from economic need, not cultural preference?

About The Author

Jose Latour is the founding partner of Latour & Lleras, P.A., a Gainesville, Florida based business immigration practice working primarily with the IT industry and foreign investors. JELPA is an A/V rated firm whose web site,, is one of the Internet’s most visited immigration sites. The firm was named “ONE OF AMERICA’S TOP TEN INTERNET/VIRTUAL COMPANIES” in the 1999 Inc. Magazine and Cisco Systems “Growing with Technology Awards.” Mr. Latour served as a U.S. Diplomatic and Consular Officer in Mexico and Africa before entering private practice and today divides his time between his law practice, writing, flying, and his music.

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.