Things That Matter

It Hasn’t Always Been A Crime To Cross The US-Mexico Border, So When Did Things Change?

Let’s start from the beginning. While immigration has been an issue on everyone’s lips over the past while after the Trump administration started enforcing a zero tolerance policy against border crossings, a new way of thinking about the issue was introduced during the Democratic debates.

Presidential hopeful Julián Castro suggested that border crossings should be decriminalized. Because if border crossings aren’t a criminal offense, then people can’t be charged for crossing the border illegally, right? Well, in short, yes. But the issue concerning what’s officially known as “Section 1325” is more complicated than what it initially seems, on the surface.

Decriminalization does not mean a free-for-all across the border.

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As much as the Trump administration would likely characterize the proposed policy as a stab at open borders, that’s not the case. The reality is that crossing the border at the moment is treated as a criminal offense, meaning that those without the appropriate documentation are automatically detained indefinitely: they are treated as a criminal.

However, decriminalizing border crossings would instead ensure that those who do attempt to cross the border are not slapped with charges of a criminal offense.

Instead, border crossings without appropriate documentation would be treated as a civil offense. In the same way that people aren’t considered a criminal for accruing a speeding fine, people crossing the border also wouldn’t be automatically treated as a criminal. This proposed approach is also more consistent with the US’ role as a signatory for the United Nation’s 1951 Refugee Convention. That is, that it’s not illegal for people to cross international borders and request asylum from another country.

Decriminalization would mean considering a new model for regulating the traffic of people across the border.

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Granted, the US still has to consider its security interests when processing requests for asylum. However, the current state of things has seen exponential overcrowding and related issues in detention centers near the border, with no indication as to whether people are seeing their requests for asylum considered at all.

Beyond the human rights problems this presents, there is also a legal quandary that must be considered in the US judicial system. Currently, the appropriate punishments for migrating across the border include both detainment and deportation – which, let’s face it, cannot be fulfilled at the same time. 

This turns into an argument around semantics: should someone be deported if they haven’t served their time in a detention center? And should someone stay in a detention center when they really should have been deported long beforehand, to prevent them from accessing the US at all? Castro’s proposal is not just about alleviating the stress being placed on US resources by detaining considerable numbers of immigrants, nor is it only about correcting human rights atrocities. It’s also about considering how immigrants are treated by the legal system.

It’s actually possible that decriminalization could reduce the number of illegal immigrants who stay indefinitely in the US.

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And yes, that’s including those who have been detained. Instead, if an immigrant was caught crossing the border without papers, they would be detained only for a brief amount of time. Once it is determined by authorities that the immigrant doesn’t raise any red flags, they would be released into the US, complete with a case management system to check in on them. The immigrant would then have to attend an immigration hearing, which would determine their status. Should it be found that the immigrant did not qualify for asylum, they then would accordingly be deported.

The positive of such a proposal is that family separation would be a thing of the past. Because border crossings wouldn’t involve criminal prosecution, there would be no reason to detain, and thus separate, families. Children would not be psychologically scarred for life simply because their parents sought a better future for them.

In fact, the US has had a longer history of decriminalized borders than criminalized ones.

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It’s worth noting that this idea of decriminalized borders isn’t really a new one. It wasn’t until 1929 that the US passed a bill that considered border crossings as a criminal misdemeanor, which meant that people could be prosecuted for entering the US without the proper authorization.

Most immigration laws before this point were focused on keeping out alcohol, gun traffickers and Asian immigrants. But, it was a white supremacist senator, Coleman Livingston Blease, who suggested fees and testing at the US-Mexico border – or, Section 1325 of Title 8 in the US Code. Are we surprised? In retrospect, no, no we are not. 

To be honest, even with this relatively short history of the criminalized border crossings, most presidents paid immigration little attention, as doing so would result in forever prosecuting misdemeanor illegal entry cases. Generally speaking, those caught crossing the border were simply informally returned.

Granted, there were some exceptions to this attitude. For example, The Great Depression saw Mexicans demonized for taking much-needed work, and deportations spiked around that time. However, it wasn’t really until the Bush administration that more decisive, ongoing action was taken on immigration. This gradual escalation in enforcing immigration policies led us to the catastrophe we’re seeing today at the borders, under the Trump administration.

So, how can you look forward to a future of decriminalized border crossings?

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Voting for 2020 presidential candidates who favor decriminalized border crossings are your best bet, if you’re keen on seeing the law changed. It’s worth listening to each candidate’s stance on immigration. For instance, aside from Castro, Democratic candidate Elizabeth Warren has also endorsed repealing Section 1325. On the other hand, Beto O’Rourke rejected the idea from the outset, proposing his own set of aggressive immigration plans. The key is to listen to the policy proposals – not just smooth platitudes.

While voting strategically is probably one of the most effective ways to see decriminalized border crossings, you do have other ways of continuing the conversation. Sharing articles on social media, like this one, can educate people and start worthwhile discussions around the issue. Writing, and even meeting with, your local political representatives can increase their own awareness of constituent interests. After all, it’s their job to represent you! Getting involved with activist groups that promote immigrant rights is another way that you can promote and work towards the decriminalization of border crossings.

Anyway, we’ll leave you with this: the wildest fact is that, from 1980 to 2010, the Border Patrol budget was increased 16 times. This was despite the reality that the number of attempted undocumented entries did not rise during this time. Considering the mounting numbers of detainees at the border, it stands to reason that immigration is yet another issue reduced to sound bites and narrative twisting from those politicians seeking to Make America Great Again – despite human welfare being at stake. While we can discuss all we like about when and how border crossings have been treated by the criminal system, the important thing to focus on is how we value human lives.

READ: Fear And Anxiety Grip Undocumented Community Nationwide As Walmart Arrests Escalate

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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.

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

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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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