The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Maria Archuleta, ACLU, (212) 519-7808 or 549-2666;
Rebecca Rauber, ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties, (619) 232-2121 x 26

U.S.-Mexico Border Crossing Deaths Are A Humanitarian Crisis, According To Report From The ACLU And CNDH

Death Rate Climbs Despite Economic Decline And Drop In Migration And Apprehensions


Mexican and international officials must recognize the deaths of
migrants occurring during unauthorized crossings of the U.S.-Mexican
border as an international humanitarian crisis and respond with reforms
that make human life a priority, according to a new report released
today by the American Civil Liberties Union of San Diego and Imperial
Counties and Mexico's National Commission on Human Rights (CNDH). The
report, Humanitarian Crisis: Migrant Deaths at the U.S.-Mexico Border,
finds that border deaths have increased despite fewer unauthorized
crossings due to the economic downturn.

The release of the report marks the
15th anniversary of the border enforcement policy Operation Gatekeeper
that concentrated border agents and added walls and fencing along
populated areas, intentionally forcing migrants to hostile environments
and natural barriers that increase the incidence of injury and death.

"The current policies in place on
both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border have created a humanitarian crisis
that has led to the deaths of more than 5,000 people," said Kevin
Keenan, Executive Director of the ACLU of San Diego and Imperial
Counties. "Because of deadly practices and policies like Operation
Gatekeeper, the death toll continues to rise unabated despite the
decrease in unauthorized crossings due to economic factors."

The report analyzes deadly border
enforcement policies and practices and their impact on individuals,
families and communities and offers concrete recommendations to
significantly decrease and possibly end the humanitarian crisis at the
Some of the report's major findings include:

  • Border deaths have increased despite the economic downturn, fewer migrant crossers and a steady drop in apprehensions.
  • In
    the last 15 years, the deaths occurring during unauthorized border
    crossings have been a predictable and inhumane outcome of
    border-security policies like Operation Gatekeeper.
  • Migrants'
    risk of death during unauthorized crossings has increased in spite of
    government programs that attempt to reduce the harmful effects of
    border enforcement policies and strategies.
  • The
    ongoing deaths of migrants have exposed government incompliance with
    international law obligations in the treatment of the dead and their

Since Operation Gatekeeper went
into effect in 1994, an estimated 5,600 migrants have died while
attempting unauthorized border crossings. In response to government
failures to prevent migrant deaths, many organizations have set up
water stations, desert medical camps, humanitarian-aid patrols and
other rescue and recovery operations in an attempt to save lives along
the U.S.-Mexican border area. As the report details, these activities
have been increasingly met with government opposition and punishment.

"By any measure, Operation
Gatekeeper is a failure. It didn't reduce unauthorized border
crossings, the economy did. It has, however, cost thousands of people
their lives," said Andrea Guerrero, Field and Policy Director of the
ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties. "Instead of policies that
foster fatalities, we need sensible, humane immigration and border
policies that prioritize human life over death."

The report recommends actions that
the U.S. and Mexican governments should take to protect and advance the
human right to life of migrants, including:

  • Recognize border crossing deaths as an international humanitarian crisis.
  • Adopt sensible, humane immigration and border policies.
  • Shift more U.S. Border Patrol resources to search and rescue.
  • Support nongovernmental humanitarian efforts at the border.
  • Direct government agencies to allow humanitarian organizations to do their work to save lives and recover remains.
  • Establish
    a binational, one-stop resource for rescue and recovery calls and
    convene all data collecting agencies to develop a uniform system.
  • Invite international involvement.

Javier Garcia, whose testimony
about his brother who died while crossing the border is featured in the
report, said, "I hope that my brother's case is taken as an example of
what should not happen, that things change."

The report can be found online at:

More information about the ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties can be found at:

More information about the ACLU's work on immigrants' rights can be found at:

The American Civil Liberties Union was founded in 1920 and is our nation's guardian of liberty. The ACLU works in the courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to all people in this country by the Constitution and laws of the United States.

(212) 549-2666