A Border of Bones and Blood

February 10, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us


Above, graves of unidentified people who died in South Texas trying to cross the border from Mexico. Photo: AP

Human bones are scattered across the vast prairies and ranches of south Texas. Human blood soaks the sands of the Sonora Desert in Arizona and California. The number and the names of the people who have died agonizing, lonely deaths in their struggle to cross the hellish war zone that is the U.S.-Mexico border may never be fully known.

Rafael Hernandez spends his spare hours scouring the remote terrain of Brooks County, Texas, in search of living and dead immigrants: people who somehow made it past the militarized barriers of death along the Rio Grande and eluded a Border Patrol station near the town of Falfurrias—but many of whom died trying to go farther north, towards Houston, San Antonio, and points beyond.

On a chilly late January morning, Hernandez took a reporter with him as he walked along a dry creek in Brooks County. Hernandez soon came across the corpse of a bare-chested young man, his eyes already pecked out by scavenger birds. Hernandez told the reporter he thought there were "hundreds" more bodies scattered across the county. When he called the Border Patrol and told them about the man's body, they told him to stay off private property.

A thousand miles away, in the deserts of Arizona, similar scenes are common occurrences. Gene Valee, founder of the group No More Deaths, said more people are dying along the border because of two factors. One of them "is more people are arriving at the border without the money to hire guides to make the trip, trying it on their own. And second, they are going—they're being pushed more by law enforcement into the mountains."

The case of Jaime Pasillas is all too typical of what happens along the Arizona border. In August 2012, Jaime called relatives in Illinois and told them he was crossing the border from the Mexican state of Sonora into Arizona. He told them in three to five days he would be reunited with his U.S-citizen children in Waukegan. But Pasillas was abandoned and lost in the desert with one gallon of water. His body was found by Native Americans of the O'odham Nation. His family drove to Arizona and identified him from a tattoo he had.

Stop thinking like
    an American.
Start thinking
    about humanity.

Democrats and Republicans both insist that "securing the border" will be a cornerstone of any new immigration law. On the official White House website, Obama boasts of doubling the number of Border Patrol agents, and says "today border security is stronger than it has ever been." Republicans recently released a paper declaring their "Principles on Immigration" which began by stating "Border security and interior enforcement must come first."

In fact, never have more people died at and along the U.S.-Mexico border, and never have people been deported in such high numbers as in the years of Obama's presidency. People have died of dehydration, of exposure; from snake bites, from high-speed collisions while being chased by police or Border Patrol agents. Some have been shot and killed by the Border Patrol, including 16-year-old Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez, who in October 2013 was in the border town of Nogales, Mexico, when he was shot 10 times by agents on the U.S. side of the border. He was hit twice in the head, killing him, and then eight more times as he lay on the sidewalk.

What the police call "bailouts"—when people ditch their vehicle and scatter to avoid the pursuit of the Border Patrol—occur two to four times daily in sparsely populated Brooks County.

A recently released report by the National Foundation for American Policy stated that "Immigrant deaths at the border rose by 27 percent in 2012, according to U.S. Border Patrol data." The report also concluded that "the rise in immigrant deaths comes at a time when fewer people are attempting to enter illegally, as measured by the significant drop in apprehensions at the border over the past several years. The evidence suggests an immigrant attempting to cross illegally into the United States today is 8 times more likely to die in the attempt than approximately a decade ago."

The Arizona Daily Star, which keeps a "border deaths database" of people who died along the Arizona portion of the border, reported last fall that 157 people died in the deserts and mountains of Arizona in 2012. Presnall Cage, a Texas rancher in Brooks County, has installed fresh water faucets and bright blue water tanks across his property. Cage said he has found the remains of over 100 immigrants on his property, including 16 in the brutal summer of 2012 alone. He told a reporter that companions of a dead immigrant will often leave shoes in the middle of a road, or some other form of marker to indicate a body is nearby. He said he came across such a marker recently, and that he "...knew something was up. Sure enough, there was a body lying in the field and buzzards flying overhead".

The U.S. has funneled an astonishing amount of weaponry, high- and low-tech fencing, and military and police personnel along the entire border for decades. Multiple barricades span the border and extend into the seas. Drones and other spy aircraft buzz overhead. Just three and a half years ago, Obama signed a bill—passed with almost unanimous "bipartisan support" in Congress—pouring $600 million into increased militarization of the border. A year after it passed, he said, "We now have more boots on the ground on the southwest border than at any time in our history. The Border Patrol has 20,000 agents—more than twice as many as there were in 2004, a buildup that began under President Bush and that we have continued."

Today, Democrats and Republicans have renewed efforts to finalize a major law to control, monitor, and suppress immigrants. What will emerge from these intense and bitter negotiations is uncertain—but it is certain that a major increase in the militarization and repression of the border area will be a key component. Revolution will have further analysis as that process develops.

But ask yourself : What kind of system routinely and without mercy destroys the possibility of a decent life in people's homelands, and then cruelly punishes them for seeking a livelihood? What kind of system deploys billions of dollars of the most advanced military equipment in the world to use against impoverished women, men, and children who carry all their possessions on their back? What kind of system leaves the bodies of hundreds of people decomposing and unidentified in distant ravines and deserts, with their families and friends never even knowing what happened to them?

What makes all this even more intolerable is that things do not have to be this way. People need to oppose the murderous attacks on immigrants—as part of a movement for revolution to bring this criminal system to an end and bring into being a whole new world.

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