Without Real Immigration Reform, More Migrants Will Die – and the American Dream Will Die With Them

The American Dream is permanently over for the 10 people who baked to death in a sweltering trailer parked on the south side or San Antonio this weekend. As American Dreams go, theirs was probably a modest version - picking fruit or painting houses or some other grueling, low-pay job - but they were willing to take profound risks for it. It cost them their lives. Most of us responded with appropriate horror to these deaths, placing the blame on criminal smugglers who treat human beings as indifferently as they would a load of tires or firewood. The terrible discovery in San Antonio drew immediate parallels to a similar incident in 2003, when a truck driver abandoned a locked semi-trailer full of unauthorized migrants near Victoria. In that case, 19 people died. These are grim stories, but they represent only a small number of the hundreds who lose their lives every year trying to get across our southern border. The more we use fences and agents and checkpoints to keep them out, the more desperate they become - and the more often they die. Extremely conservative estimates suggest that at least 6,500 unauthorized migrants have died trying to cross the border - mostly in Arizona and Texas - since 1998. A few drown, or are killed in clashes with border patrols, but most of them die of exposure trying to walk across remote, arid desert areas. It's impossible to know the real number, because so many bodies are never discovered. In one rural Texas county, law enforcement officials found more than 400 corpses between 2009 and 2015. They have discovered more than 30 this year. "These deaths are gruesome," according to a multi-jurisdictional report released last year by the Police Executive Research Forum. "It is physically impossible to carry enough water to survive more than a few days in the desert." Desperate migrants try to traverse the bone-dry desert because U.S. enforcement efforts have cracked down on the easy-to-cross towns and natural transit points. Some officials, notably Texas Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, were quick to implicate so-called "sanctuary city" policies in the weekend trailer deaths, insisting that these are "enticements" that lead unauthorized migrants to cross the border. Look, these people are so desperate for jobs that they risk their lives. They're not being "enticed" by public policy; they're coming in spite of public policy that makes their efforts increasingly, tragically dangerous. In May, the New York Times examined these often-anonymous tragedies, and the terrible toll they take on the public agencies and private volunteers who cope with them. Many of the dead migrants' bodies carry no identification, are badly decomposed, and have been disfigured by wild animals and the elements. There are heartbreaking photos of some of the personal belongings they carry: a child's drawing, a Spanish-language Bible, a little stuffed toy. Reminders of families, of home. The story cites researchers who, on examining the bodies, find that "numerous skulls and craniums ... have jagged holes at the back of the eye sockets" because "vultures punch out the thin bone as they pick at the eyes." These are people, human beings who overwhelmingly want nothing but a hard, physically demanding job and a few bucks to send back home. Vanishingly few of them are criminals, unless you take the short view that they are criminals by virtue of having made the trip, and perhaps that they deserve to suffocate in hot trailers. What they need, and what the (estimated) 11 million undocumented people who are already here need, and what all the rest of us need, are sensible immigration policies based on supply and demand and common decency instead of shrill selfish panic. Another argument, perhaps a little bit less callous than "let them die," is the one that goes "they shouldn't be allowed to cut in line," that immigration is OK by those who go through the right channels and fill out the right forms, the ones who wait patiently in line. The problem is, that for most of these migrants, there is no line. Our current system, rendered dysfunctional by inaction, incompetence and political hysteria, makes the reality of "orderly immigration" a callous oxymoron. "Many Americans wonder why all immigrants do not just come to the United States legally or simply 'get in line' if they are unauthorized," according to the American Immigration Council, a national non-profit calling for policy-driven reform. "These suggestions miss the point: There is no line available for unauthorized immigrants and the 'regular channels' do not include them." No wall, no amount of barbed wire and armed patrols and cameras and drones can create an impenetrable seal along 2,000 miles of border. Desperate migrants will only pay more to entrust their lives to unscrupulous coyotes who work for criminal gangs. They will take greater risks, make longer detours through the desert, embark on less-survivable journeys. More of them will die, suffocating in airless trailers, or hallucinating and collapsing of heat stroke and thirst in the empty expanses of border-zone brushland.If we let this go on, we are the real criminals. Without humanity, the American Dream is a cruel joke on us all.  Continue reading...

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