Citing the latest figures from the US Border Patrol’s Tucson Sector, The number of deaths of undocumented immigrants in the Arizona desert increased by 20
percent during the 2009 fiscal year, despite extreme vigilance and the efforts of humanitarian organizations, The Latin American Herald Tribune Reports. Since Oct. 1, 2008 until Aug. 31 this year, 191 undocumented immigrants have died, compared to last year, when during the same period, 159 deaths were recorded.
“'I’m sure that once all the deaths in September are added up, we will easily show more than 200 fatalities,” said Rev. Robin Hoover, founder and director of Compassionate Borders, a group that every week puts water in the desert for undocumented immigrants. “In the past few years an average of 180 undocumented immigrants have died each year in the Arizona desert. Again this year we see the percentage of deaths on the rise,” said Hoover, who last Sunday led a ceremony in Tucson in remembrance of the victims.
Border Patrol spokesman Jorge Gomez says that the majority of these deaths are caused by human traffickers. “These people don’t care about the lives of immigrants, they just see them as business and don’t hesitate to leave them to their fate in the desert,” Gomez said. He added that traffickers continue to trick illegals by telling them they will only have to walk a few hours through the desert, when they really end up walking for days. “No one can carry enough water to survive so many days in the desert,” Gomez said.
The Tucson Sector, which includes 90 percent of the border between Arizona and the Mexican state of Sonora, is currently guarded by 3,300 Border Patrol agents. This region annually reports more than 40 percent of all undocumented-immigrant arrests along the entire Mexican border, as well as most of the deaths.
The number of people crossing both the northern and southern borders of the US has seen a sharp decrease over the past few months, coinciding with the enforcement of the June 1 passport requirement, USA Today reports. According to estimates by US Customs and Border Patrol, the combined travel among the two borders has decreased by 13% since the rule was enacted.
The new rule, part of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, was introduced as an effort to make borders secure after 9/11. The rules affect US citizens entering by land or sea, who once could get across by simply declaring themselves citizens. The change also affects citizens of Canada and Bermuda, who previously did not have to show passports.
The passport rule went into effect in airports in 2007. The rules for Mexicans has remained unchanged; they have needed special border crossing cards or passports plus visas, well before the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative first went active.
In an effort to improve relations and trust with members of its city’s growing Hispanic community, New Orleans Superintendent Warren Riley announced last month that his officers will not ask crime victims or witnesses about their documentation status. “We will not, under any circumstances, focus on deportation,” Riley said.
According to New Orleans’ The Times Picayune, the announcement is the latest in a series of steps taken by the city to bolster the relationship with its Hispanic residents. Earlier this year, NOPD named officer Janssen Valencia as its liaison to the Hispanic community. Valencia said in an interview that the NOPD would not question crime witnesses or victims about their immigration status. But Riley’s statement made the policy official.
“We want them to know that – unless you are the violator or the perpetrator – there is no threat of deportation or arrest, as it relates to the New Orleans Police Department,” Riley said.
Last week, President Obama nominated Alan Bersin to be the new commissioner of US Customs and Border Protection, the nation’s largest law enforcement agency, The Los Angeles Times reports. Bersin, a veteran of federal patrol enforcement, has served since April as assistant secretary for international affairs at the Department of Homeland Security. If approved by the Senate, Bersin will oversee about 57,000 employees who police the nation’s borders.
Bersin will continue to advise Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano on issues related to Mexico and the border, although he will relinquish the title of special representative, officials said. “Under Alan's leadership over the past several months, we have forged new international and domestic partnerships along our borders to strengthen security,” Napolitano said in a statement. “I look forward to continuing to work with Alan in his new position.”