[News] Border Patrol Leaves Migrants in Remote Town as Deaths Rise

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Tue Oct 13 16:29:08 EDT 2020

https://theintercept.com/2020/10/13/border-patrol-migrants-deaths/ Border
Patrol Leaves Migrants in Remote Town as Deaths Rise
Ryan Devereaux - October 13, 2020

*With migrant deaths* approaching levels not seen in years, humanitarian
aid volunteers in southern Arizona say that the U.S. Border Patrol is using
Covid-19 as a pretext to quietly dump large numbers of immigrants in one of
the most remote and potentially dangerous communities in the Sonoran Desert.

Volunteers who have visited the dusty community of Sasabe, in the Mexican
state of Sonora, in recent weeks, say that they have witnessed U.S.
immigration agents continually off-loading large groups of people
throughout the day, overwhelming the town’s limited immigration resources
and placing individuals at significant risk of being targeted by organized
criminal groups.

“We believe that Border Patrol is getting away with these horrible
deportation numbers because no one knows,” Dora Rodriguez, a Tucson-based
humanitarian aid volunteer
<https://theintercept.com/2020/09/05/us-mexico-border-coronavirus/>, told
The Intercept. “It is really easy for them to just dump people there and
that’s it. Nobody says anything.”

Rodriguez and a growing group of humanitarian volunteers began turning
their attention to Sasabe in mid-September, making biweekly visits to bring
food and water to migrants after learning of the explosion in arrivals to
the resource-strapped community. With a population of approximately 2,500
and a single town store, the port of entry at Sasabe has long been described
as one of the quietest official crossings in the state. There is no migrant
shelter in the town, and the influence and power of organized crime in the
area is well known.

[image: GettyImages-631941108]

View of the border between Mexico and the U.S in the community of Sasabe in
Sonora state, Mexico, on January 13, 2017.

Photo: Alfredo Estrella/AFP/Getty Images

In recent visits, Rodriguez has been joined by Sister Judy Bourg, a nun
with the Sisters of Notre Dame, and Gail Kocourek, a volunteer with the
Green Valley Samaritans, one of Arizona’s longstanding humanitarian groups.
The women told The Intercept that they have personally seen groups of
migrants numbering in the dozens gathered outside of Sasabe’s tiny
immigration office. Through a visit to a local stash house and
conversations with local contacts, the women were told that the Border
Patrol is dropping upwards of 100 to 120 people in the community each day.

“We totally didn’t expect this,” Kocourek, a longtime volunteer in the
Sasabe area, told The Intercept. “We’ve got hungry people being dumped into
this community by the hundreds.” Kocourek added that Border Patrol
enforcement activity in the area is unlike anything she has ever seen
before. “It’s just tremendous right now,” she said. “I’ve never seen so
much activity in that area.”

Operating under an order issued by the Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention, in March the Border Patrol began rapidly expelling migrants at
the border in the name of defending against the spread of Covid-19. As the
Wall Street Journal recently reported
however, pressure to enact the order did not come from public health
officials, but instead from Stephen Miller, the president’s ultra-hardline
immigration adviser. Miller, who recently contracted Covid-19 himself, has long
to connect immigrants to disease as means to close off immigration at the

“We’ve got hungry people being dumped into this community by the hundreds.”

It’s not only Mexican nationals who are being dropped in Sasabe, Rodriguez
said, noting that she had she met Salvadorans, Hondurans, and a father from
Guatemala, who had been expelled with his 16-year-old son, during recent
visits. “I understand when there are tons of people in Nogales and in
Tijuana and in Sonoyta,” she said, referring to more well-known border
communities where the Border Patrol often deposits migrants. “But they have
resources — even if they’re limited, there are some resources. But in
Sasabe, it’s nothing.”

Rodriguez and the other advocates say that the expulsions are making an
already dangerous situation worse. Following a blistering hot summer — in
Phoenix, the hottest in recorded history — more human remains have been
recovered in the Arizona desert this year than at any point since 2013. On
top of the rising death toll, the expulsions have come at a time of
escalating tension in the desert, with the Border Patrol executing two
militarized raids on a humanitarian aid station in the region in three
months, federal agents arresting
and tear-gassing
Indigenous activists protesting border expansion on sacred lands, and the
state’s for-profit immigration detention centers
becoming some the nation’s leading hot spots for Covid-19.

Generally lasting no more than a couple hours from encounter to removal,
the so-called Title 42 expulsions have radically altered the shape of
migration and immigration enforcement along the border. The Border Patrol
has long relied on a deterrence strategy that funnels migrants into the
border’s deadliest terrain, pushing its land checkpoints deeper into the
interior of the country and forcing migrants to walk further into the
desert in the hopes of linking up with a ride. Agents will sometimes track
a group of migrants for days before making an arrest, allowing physical
exhaustion to assist in their apprehension efforts. Now, with the
expulsions in effect, those exhausted migrants can be swiftly booted from
the country. According to data
from U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the government has expelled more
than 147,000 people along the southwest border using the order.

[image: The War on Immigrants]Read Our Complete CoverageThe War on
Immigrants <https://theintercept.com/collections/the-war-on-immigrants/>

While Mark Morgan, the senior official performing the duties of the
commissioner of CBP, has described the expulsions as a “game changer
advocates say that the expulsions rob migrants of due process rights and
subject them to extreme danger when their removals involve being dumped in
unfamiliar and remote communities with entrenched organized crime. Bourg,
who has spent a decade providing humanitarian on the border, told The
Intercept that the expelled migrants whom she met on a recent visit to
Sasabe looked physically depleted. “They came in beat-up looking,” she
said. Their eyes were red and glassy, she added. “They didn’t just cross
and walk for half a day.”

In the past week, The Intercept has repeatedly requested a breakdown of the
Border Patrol’s data on expulsions in the agency’s Tucson sector, as well
as an interview with an official who could explain how determinations are
made as to which ports migrants will be expelled through. The Border Patrol
has provided neither. In April, an agency spokesperson acknowledged that
Sasabe was seeing a “mild uptick
in expulsions but provided no numbers to assess the claim.

[image: GettyImages-452923526]

Immigrants walk in line through the Arizona desert near Sasabe, Sonora
state, in an attempt to cross the Mexican-U.S. border, on April 6, 2006.

Photo: Omar Torres/AFP/Getty Images
A Grim Milestone

While the Border Patrol’s expulsion protocol remains unclear, what is
evident is that 2020 has been a particularly deadly year for migrants
attempting to cross the Sonoran Desert. For years, the Pima County Office
of the Medical Examiner has shared its data on suspected migrant death
cases with Humane Borders, a humanitarian group that charts the data
on an interactive
online map <https://humaneborders.info/app/map.asp>.

As of this week, the medical examiner’s office has logged 181 cases of
suspected migrant deaths recovered in its area of operations this year. The
last time the office saw a higher total was in 2013, when 186 sets of human
remains were recovered. The record for most human remains recovered in a
single year was set in 2010, when 224 were found. With two and a half
months yet to go in the year, advocates worry that 2020 could exceed that
grim milestone.

“I think by the end of year, it’ll be the highest since 2010,” Mike
Kreyche, the mapping coordinator with Humane Borders, told The Intercept.
“I hope we don’t get up that high, but I think we’re going to approach it.”

This year, there has been a marked increase in the recovery of remains
indicating a recently deceased individual, particularly in the brutally hot
summer months.

What’s particularly alarming about this year’s data, Kreyche explained, is
the column of information labeled “postmortem interval,” the estimated
amount of time between an individual’s death and the discovery of their
remains. In recent years, that number has generally been more than six to
eight months — in some cases, remains discovered in the field could be
years old. This year, however, there has been a marked increase in the
recovery of remains indicating a recently deceased individual, particularly
in the brutally hot summer months. In September, roughly two thirds of the
recoveries recorded by the medical examiner’s office suggested a death in
the prior three months. Overall, the 2020 data show that more than half of
the recoveries of suspected migrant remains — 107 of 181 cases — indicate a
death that occurred at some point less than six to eight months prior.

“There have been a lot more deaths,” Kreyche said, “particularly recent

Montana Thames, a volunteer with the humanitarian organization No More
Deaths, said the past several months have been “very active” for volunteers
providing aid on the ground. With temperatures continuously breaking 100
degrees, “people need help, people need aid,” Thames told The Intercept.
“There have been a lot of people who haven’t made it.”

Last week, the Border Patrol raided
No More Deaths’ humanitarian aid station outside of Arivaca, Arizona,
approximately 25 miles northeast of Sasabe, for the second time in three
months. The first raid
was launched in the middle of a heat wave and featured members of the
Border Patrol’s tactical team, known as BORTAC, pointing rifles while
agents slashed through the organization’s tents with knives, confiscated
sensitive medical records and dumped out gallon jugs of water.

Efforts to engage in a dialogue with the Border Patrol since then went
nowhere, Thames said, and last Monday night BORTAC was again deployed in a
heavily militarized operation that involved agents in night-vision goggles
trashing the organization’s belongings. Twelve migrants were arrested,
including some who were chased through Arivaca before being taken into
custody. While the raid was “shocking” and unacceptable, Thames noted,
“This is literally the everyday reality of migrants and undocumented
communities in general.”

Rodriguez visited Sasabe the morning after the raid on the No More Deaths
camp. She described witnessing multiple rounds of expulsions and said that
at one point, as many as 50 people were gathered outside the overwhelmed
Mexican immigration office. She was told that some of the migrants in town
that day were among those arrested in the raid the previous night.
Rodriguez spoke to one young man from El Salvador. His shoes were tattered,
and his toes poked through at the ends. He said that he had spent 15 days
in the desert. Rodriguez, who nearly died crossing the border as an
asylum-seeker herself in 1980, was both moved and troubled by the young
man’s story. “They are putting these people in the most horrible danger,”
she said. “They have nothing.”

Driving back into the U.S. last Tuesday, Rodriguez and the other advocates
encountered an enormous Border Patrol caravan heading south. “That road
always has a lot of Border Patrol, but this was exceptional,” Bourg said.
Rodriguez said the area was “like a war zone,” adding, “They’re running
their own show over there and it’s a secret.”

Although humanitarian aid volunteers are now coordinating food and water
supply runs sufficient to support 700 people in Sasabe each week, Rodriguez
said more must be done. She believes the Border Patrol’s expulsions into
the town need to stop.

“It’s like a playground for BP,” she said. “No one is making them
accountable for this.”
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