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Amid Harsh New Border Plans, Death Toll Mounts*

by Michelle Chen

As the government moves forward with harsh border-enforcement legislation, immigrant-rights advocates point to a mounting death toll that they warn will only continue to climb.

*A correction was appended to this news report after initial publication.

Oct. 26, 2006 – Aged 25 to 35, name unknown, dead from "environmental exposure." The man found late last month in Fort Huachuca was the 205th body discovered along the Arizona-Mexico border from October 2005 through the end of September this year.

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With the passage of a harsh new border-enforcement bill, human-rights activists are highlighting the heavy toll that migrants are paying on an increasingly desperate and dangerous route.

The human-rights group Coalición de Derechos Humanos (Coalition of Human Rights), which compiles statistics from federal reports, county medical examiners and consular offices, has counted more than 3,000 border deaths since the current border policies were implemented in the 1990s.

According to medical examiner’s reports, this year’s 205 deaths in Arizona included 152 males, 48 females, and five bodies whose sex could not be determined. Eight of them were known to be under 18. More than 90 remain nameless, with authorities unable to notify their families.

In August, the Government Accountability Office reported that border deaths had nearly doubled since 1998 following the launch of the Southwest Border Strategy. The Clinton-era program was intended to deter unauthorized immigration by ramping up personnel and surveillance in high-traffic areas, particularly sections of the border near San Diego, California and El Paso, Texas.

With plans for more fencing underway, human-rights activists are highlighting the heavy toll that migrants are paying on an increasingly desperate and dangerous route.

Ultimately, the tightened patrol at major corridors drove more migrants to traverse the treacherous expanse of Arizona’s Sonoran Desert.

Isabel Garcia, co-chair of the Coalition, predicted the journey would become even more dangerous with the passage of the Secure Fence Act, which would authorize the construction of new fortified fencing in an attempt to toughen the border. President Bush signed the bill today.

"This border militarization is going to continue this deadly result," Garcia said.

The final death count as of October 1 was lower than the previous year’s count of about 280 documented border deaths, along with additional bodies discovered on the Mexican side.

Garcia said the threat of an increased military presence might have deterred some would-be border-crossers. President Bush’s announced in May that he would send 6,000 National Guard troops to the border. Another factor, she added, is that unusually rainy weather had somewhat reduced the risk of fatal heat exposure, a common cause of migrant deaths.

But Garcia said the decline did not detract from her group’s outrage that US border policy continues to take lives.

"Yes, it’s a reduction," she said, "but you know what? It’s 205 human beings that lost their lives."

CORRECTION

Major Change:

The original version of this brief said the 205 deaths were along the US-Mexico border. In fact, they were along the Arizona-Mexico border.

 | Change Posted October 26, 2006 at 17:32 PM EST

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The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.


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Michelle Chen is a staff journalist.

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