By now, most Americans have learned how brutal and inhumane our immigration system is. From metal walls designed to burn anyone who touches them to children being taken from their parents simply for exercising their right to ask for asylum, our immigration policies and the agencies that enforce them are not only violating human rights, they embody the evils that spring forth from hateful human minds. Worse yet are the many crimes that we have yet to learn.
There are thousands of those.
I say crimes because I believe it is a crime to force people to cross dangerous terrains simply in search of a better life. To insist that there are legal means with which to enter the U.S. when there are not, to claim that the asylum system is shut down to suppress the spread of Covid-19 while the government cannot even issue a mask mandate, to force families to live in a dangerous country where they are not welcome and to then punish them after they are forced to cross in an undesignated area — these our our crimes. And when the Border Patrol spends millions of dollars to film themselves rappelling out of helicopters to save these families from the dangers that the agency itself placed them in, from what they know is sure death, this sort of self-fulfilling propaganda is criminal, too.
What the agency does not talk much about — what you rarely see in the media — are the thousands of asylum seekers who do not make it. Since 1998, agents have found over 8,000 migrant bodies. Over 1,000 of those have remained unidentified. These statistics are deceiving though. Agents only search for people who they believe may still be alive. Once too much time has passed, the agency will call off the search. Too many dead migrants results in bad publicity for them, while pictures of saving migrants is better public relations and leads to more funding and the false notion that they are somehow heroes.
They don’t want you to see the thousands of skeletons scattered on the desert floor, the way that animals carry the bones off to strip every last piece of tissue — it’s bad publicity, after all. They don’t want you to know how the father of a family from Guatemala was forced to cross illegally because the government feels being threatened with the rape of his daughters by gang members and police is not reason enough to flee his country. The patrol doesn’t want you to hear how his legs began to cramp in the heat of the Arizona sun, how he just thought he needed a rest and would catch up with the group soon, how quickly he began to vomit and have diarrhea, how he crawled under a tree and took his last breath, how it wasn’t long before his stomach exploded from the gasses that built up from the high temperatures.
They don’t want you to know about the mothers and children who fled violence from Honduras by crossing in the cold mountains during the winter time. They never mention how a woman walked right out of her shoes, how her mind went all crazy thinking she was not freezing but burning up, how she stripped her clothes off and suddenly just fell face down in the snow. They don’t tell you that others in the group folded her arms and put a cross on her chest or that if her child was still alive, they took him to try and save him.
This happens thousands of times a year on our southern border. Why? Because we do not have an asylum system. Because we have shut the border down, pretending that it saves us from Covid-19. Because the Border Patrol has militarized our border with lies about how dangerous it is and made claiming asylum a crime.
This will continue to happen. Thousands more will be found, but thousands more will never be.
This is why Congress must pass the Missing Persons and Unidentified Remains Act of 2020 (H.R. 8772). It is a true unicorn of legislation in that it has wide bipartisan support. The costs of finding, collecting, identifying and returning bodies to their families often falls on local governments who neither have the funds nor the resources for such forensic investigations. This bill would increase funding as well as create 170 cell-powered 911 cellular relay rescue beacons in some of these dangerous areas. It mandates more transparency in how Border Patrol locates and treats human remains as well.
The recovery of human bodies is not a political issue. At least, it should not be.
Please ask your members of Congress to support this bill. You can also help non-profit organizations working to locate lost migrants by contributing or volunteering with these organizations: the Colibri Center, Armadillo Busquedas y Rescate, Aguilas del Desierto.
Photo by Patricio Espinoza / AP
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