‘Missing-Persons Crisis’: US Border Patrol Reportedly Uses Desert as Killing Tool

New report finds agents chase border crossers into Southwest desert, where they often become lost, are left to die, or disappear altogether

By Nadia Prupis, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 12-7-2016

In 1994, Border Patrol adopted a strategy known as Prevention Through Deterrence, which sought to control the region by increasing the risk of coming into the country without documents. (Photo: Texas Military Department/flickr/cc)

In 1994, Border Patrol adopted a strategy known as Prevention Through Deterrence, which sought to control the region by increasing the risk of coming into the country without documents. (Photo: Texas Military Department/flickr/cc)

The U.S. Border Patrol has used the south-western desert to set up the death and disappearances of tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants, according to a new report by the Arizona-based advocacy groups No More Deaths/No Más Muertes and La Coalición de Derechos Humanos.

The report, entitled Disappeared: How U.S. Border-Enforcement Agencies are Fueling a Missing-Persons Crisis, finds that Border Patrol agents routinely chase border crossers into “remote terrain,” causing them to scatter, which often causes them to become lost, leading to death, injury, or disappearance.

“The known disappearance of thousands of people in the remote wilderness of the U.S.–Mexico border zone marks one of the great historical crimes of our day,” the 34-page report(pdf) states in the first of a three-part series on the crisis.

Tens of thousands of border crossers have gone missing since 1994, according to the report, which analyzed surveys from Nogales, Arizona along with data from Derechos’s Missing Migrant Crisis Line.

“If found, the disappeared turn up in detention centers, in morgues, or skeletonized on the desert floor; many human remains are never identified,” the report continues. “Thousands more are never located.”

No More Deaths interviewed dozens of crossers. Out of 58 who responded to the survey, 47 said they had been chased through the desert, including on multiple occasions.

“We run as if we were blind, as if we had a cloth over our eyes,” said one respondent, who suffered lacerations from running into a barbed-wire fence. “Border Patrol can see everything though, and they know where the fences and the cliffs are. They will chase you towards them.”

Border Patrol agents also often use escalating violence—including beatings, dog attacks, and assault with vehicle—while chasing the crossers into the wilderness. This often leads to crossers losing track of their group and ending up alone in remote locations without water or other life-saving belongings. In other cases, border crossers have drowned in the Rio Grande.

In 1994, Border Patrol adopted a strategy known as Prevention Through Deterrence, which sought to control the region by increasing the risk of coming into the country without documents. Since 9/11, however, the agency has received an influx of financial support from the government, which has allowed it to expand border control power, adding resources like drones and helicopters to its arsenal.

The report calls for the Prevention Through Deterrence program to be abolished, for “the preservation of human life, human rights, and human dignity” to be the cornerstone of all border operations, and to make all policies and documentation of the operations public.

In a statement, the organizations urged supporters to contact Democrats like Rep. Raul Grijalva of Arizona and Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California and ask them to “commission a Government Accountability Office report” on the cost of President-elect Donald Trump’s promised U.S.-Mexico border wall. Such a report “which would expose its extravagant cost, its ineffectiveness at halting migration, and how it would push more migrants towards death and disappearance,” the organizations said.

“With Trump’s promise to build a border wall and to deport 2-3 million immigrants who have built lives in the U.S., we will inevitably witness more deaths and disappearances in the borderlands,” they wrote.

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