WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas
18 Dec 2013 | Commentary

Mounting Humanitarian Crisis at the Border

Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ), Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA), and 37 other Members of Congress sent a letter on December 16 to then Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Rand Beers requesting a meeting to discuss humanitarian concerns at the U.S.-Mexico border. The letter focused on several issues that fall within the authority of the Department of Homeland Security, namely the recent increases in migrant deaths, inadequate short-term custody conditions, and unsafe deportation practices.

In 2012, Border Patrol found the remains of 463 migrants on U.S. soil, making it the second-highest year for migrant deaths since 1998. And the death toll continues in 2013. In Arizona, the Border Patrol reported 171 deaths statewide from October 1, 2012 to August 31, 2013; as of May, 76 deaths had been registered in the Rio Grande Valley sector alone.

Migrants who are detained by the Border Patrol face other harms. Many migrants experience inhumane treatment in short-term detention centers, including physical abuse, denial of medical attention, violation of due process, and inadequate food and water.

Moreover, current deportation practices, such as deporting migrants in the middle of the night or sending them to Mexican border cities facing high-levels of crime and violence, put migrants at greater risk of being kidnapped, abused, and extorted by drug cartels and criminal groups that operate in the border region.

It is clear that there is a humanitarian tragedy occurring at the U.S.-Mexico border, and the U.S. government has the capacity and responsibility to address this issue immediately. Some of the steps the government can take include installing more rescue beacons and water drums in the desert to curb migrant deaths, holding agents who abuse migrants accountable for their actions, or halting night deportations to lessen the risk that migrants fall prey to criminal organizations. The Members of Congress detail these measures in their letter and urge the Department of Homeland Security to incorporate these and other steps to protect migrants into the broader border policy.

As Congressman Grijalva stated regarding the letter, “It matters how we enforce our laws, and it matters who is getting harmed in the process. We should never turn a blind eye to needless suffering, especially if it’s taking place in the name of security. Members of Congress have a duty to conduct proper oversight, and we believe a meeting is the right opportunity to start making some decisions about how CBP can best conduct its mission going forward.”

To read the letter to then Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Rand Beers from Members of Congress, click here.