Things That Matter

2020 Was The Deadliest Year On Record For Migrants Crossing The Arizona Border

There is no one reason for the record-breaking number of migrant deaths along the Arizona border with Mexico. Between the cruel border policies of the Trump administration, an increase in hostility by US Border Patrol toward humanitarian aid workers, and record-breaking heat in the state, all combined to create the dangerous and deadly conditions.

However, one thing is clear: more must be done to avoid the needless loss of life for those simply seeking a better opportunity for themselves and their families.

The remains of at least 225 people have been found scattered throughout the Arizona desert, so far.

2020 has been the deadliest year on record for migrants crossing into Arizona, with the remains of at least 225 people being discovered across the desert. This is a significant uptick from last year, when 144 remains were found; from 2018, when there were 128; and from 2017, when there were 124, according to data compiled by the Pima County Medical Examiner’s Office and Humane Borders, a Tucson-based human rights group. The previous record was in 2010, when 224 remains were found in the Arizona desert.

Since 1998, at least 7,000 migrants are believed to have died along the US-Mexico border, maybe many more, as record-keeping is patchy.

“These people are not just numbers,” said Tony Banegas, executive director of the Colibri Center for Human Rights, an organization in Tucson working to identify migrant remains and helps families find missing loved ones.

“These are human beings with families and aspirations. They went to great lengths to make the journey, [only] to become just a grave in the desert.”

Visualizing the numbers can be overwhelming to comprehend.

Credit: OpenGIS Initiative for Deceased Migrants / Humane Borders

Since 2013, migrant rights advocates and health officials have published an online database mapping the deaths of people identified as migrants in Southern Arizona. The public database was set up to help researchers, family members searching for a missing person, and humanitarian aid workers, who could use the information to identify where to leave more water. The map shows a red dot for every body recovered: 3,365 since 2001. 

The red dots, even for a single year, can look overwhelming. It’s important to remember each red dot represents someone’s loved one who died trying to reach the United States. 

Experts point to the record-breaking heatwaves that baked the Arizona deserts in 2020.

Arizona is no stranger to hot weather and most migrants who attempt the border crossing are well aware of the dangers the heat poses, but few come well-prepared.

According to Greg Hess, chief medical examiner in Pima County, “the heat is likely the biggest contributing factor for the uptick of remains that we are finding.” This year, Arizona broke many records with nonstop extreme heat for months, and with the least amount of rain during the summer.

But Trump’s cruel immigration policies also had an outsized effect on migrant safety.

Since March, the Trump administration used the pandemic to seal shut an already virtually closed U.S.-Mexico border to migrants who turn themselves in to border agents and to asylum seekers. These cruel and inhumane policies forced many of them to make the dangerous trek through the Arizona desert.

“They can’t apply for asylum, so their options are considerably cut down and they’re forced into more and more dangerous situations,” says Montana Thames, a humanitarian aid worker with No More Deaths, an advocacy group that seeks to aid migrants crossing in the desert. “Plus, wall construction is happening closer to Nogales and Sasabe, where there are more resources—so because of the wall constitution, they have to go to more dangerous and more remote parts of the desert.” 

Making matters worse, as part of the changes to border policy since the pandemic started, Border Patrol has been immediately sending people they apprehend in the desert, many of whom are already in bad shape—often dehydrated and disoriented—right back to the border to be released into Mexico.

Migrant aid groups also saw their work threatened by U.S. Border Patrol.

For years, the number one cause of death among migrants crossing through the desert has been exposure to the elements, resulting in hypothermia or hyperthermia. As a result, aide groups like No More Death have been leaving food and water and stations throughout the desert.

The organization has long had a functioning relationship with Border Patrol, and there was even mutual respect between the two. But this year, aid workers say previous agreements with Border Patrol seemed to go out the window.

Over the summer, Border Patrol raided a No More Deaths camp 10 miles north of the border that had been running since 2004. Heavily armed agents then conducted a second raid in the middle of the night just days later. The agents confiscated phones and records of the migrants who had passed through the camp.

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The Rio Grande Claims Life Of An 8-Year-Old Boy As Migrants Risk Arctic Conditions To Cross Into U.S.

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The Rio Grande Claims Life Of An 8-Year-Old Boy As Migrants Risk Arctic Conditions To Cross Into U.S.

David Peinado/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Texas is seeing an unprecedented weather crisis as much of the state is plunged into bitterly cold conditions. But that hasn’t stopped many migrants and refugees from attempting to cross into the U.S. for protection.

Many migrants cross the Rio Grande (or Río Bravo en Mexico) between Texas and the Mexican state of Tamaulipas. Crossing the Rio Grande is always a dangerous undertaking but now, thanks to the freezing weather, it’s an especially perilous journey and it’s claimed the life of another child.

An 8-year-old boy has drowned while crossing the river with his family.

Authorities have reported that an 8-year-old Honduran boy has become the latest victim in a string of drownings at the Rio Grande, between the the U.S. and Mexico. Despite the unprecedented weather, migrants continue to attempt to cross the dangerous river to reach the U.S.

The child was with his family attempting to cross the river when he drowned on Wednesday, just as Texas was gripped by Arctic conditions which have killed more than 30 people and left millions in Mexico and Texas without power, water and food. The boy’s parents and sister apparently made it to the U.S., but were returned to Mexico by U.S. Border Patrol.

According to Mexican immigration officials, the boy “couldn’t withstand the pounding water, which covered him and kept him submerged for several meters”. His body was recovered but attempts to revive him were unsuccessful.

The Rio Grande is notoriously dangerous for people attempting to cross the border.

The journey across the Rio Grande has always been a perilous one, with hundreds of people, many of whom could not swim, having drowned over the years after being caught by the deceptively deep waters and strong current.

Add in the current winter storm currently blanketing the entire state of Texas, has produced significant snow and prolonged freezing temperatures, has made the crossing even more dangerous.

In fact, earlier in the week, the river had claimed another victim. A woman from Venezuela died trying to cross the river in the same area after getting trapped in below-freezing currents. Three others suffered hypothermia: one was treated by the Red Cross in Mexico, while the other two made it the US border.

Drownings are just one of the dangers migrants face.

Apart from the potential for drownings, migrants face a wide range of dangerous while attempting to cross from Mexico into the U.S. In late January, 19 bodies were found shot and burned in a vehicle near the town of Camargo, also across the border from Texas.

There’s also the threat of violence from drug cartels and smugglers, corrupt officials, and other extreme elements, such as heat during the summer.

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Arizona Congresswoman Says That Hispanics Are ‘Good Workers’ But Shouldn’t Get Vaccines Before ‘American Citizens’

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Arizona Congresswoman Says That Hispanics Are ‘Good Workers’ But Shouldn’t Get Vaccines Before ‘American Citizens’

Photo via Getty Images

Coronavirus infection rates are falling drastically, but a new debate rages on: how to quickly, effectively, and ethically distribute vaccines to as many people as possible.

Last week, Arizona Congresswoman Debbie Lesko stated that Hispanic people–despite being “good workers”–shouldn’t get vaccinated before “American citizens”.

“I worked with people that are Hispanic,” Rep. Lesko said “I mean they’re very good workers…We’re compassionate people, but for goodness sakes, we have to take care of American citizens, or people that are here legally, first.”

She continued: “I’m just not going to be able to explain to my senior citizens that we’re giving away the vaccines to people that (are) here illegally. I just think that’s totally wrong.”

“My Democratic colleagues are putting illegal immigrants over them,” Lesko said during the hearing. “If I read it right, all this amendment says is put Americans first. Put Americans first, and once they’re all vaccinated, then you can go to the illegal immigrants.”

The statement was made during a House Energy & Commerce Committee hearing where representatives were debating an amendment to a COVID-19 relief bill.

The Republican amendment suggested prioritizing American citizens over non-citizens when it comes to getting vaccinated first. Democrats argued that purposefully excluding non-citizens from getting vaccinated would keep the virus from being properly contained.

“The vaccine has no clue about where you come from, whether you have papers, whether you’re considered a citizen or legal or not,” said Democratic Congresswoman from Illinois, Jan Schakowsky. “It makes no sense. This is dangerous.”

Arizona State Senator Martin Quezada told NBC News that Lesko’s statement “reeks of racism.”

“There are a lot of people of color in her district and for her to be disconnected and really that offensive about how she sees us, as nothing more than good workers and not entitled to equitable vaccine distribution,” he said.

When asked about her remarks, Rep. Lesko defend them to political outlet The Hill: “Taken in context, my remarks clearly were aimed at ensuring that seniors receive taxpayer-funded vaccines before illegal immigrants,” she said. “During debate on the amendment, after being interrupted several times, I said something that could be misinterpreted, but it certainly was not my intent.”

But it seems that it this point, Lesko is trying to do damage control. Just today, she tweeted out a picture of the local “Hispanic Advisory Board”, accompanied by a caption written completely in Spanish.

“Estoy orgullosa por el lanzamiento de nuestra Junta Asesora Hispana, la primera reunión fue anoche,” the tweet read. “Esta se enfocará en las maneras en que podemos servir mejor a los miembros de nuestra comunidad Hispana en Arizona!” (“I am proud of the launch of our Hispanic Advisory Board, the first meeting was last night. It will focus on ways we can better serve members of our Hispanic community in Arizona!“)

Serving a state that is 30% Hispanic, it seems like Lesko may now be regretting her previous comments…

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