By Miguel De La Torre
Feb. 20 marked the one-year anniversary of Josseline’s death, a 14-year-old girl whose demise went unnoticed. She died of thirst and exposure to the elements of Arizona.
She died because of prevailing United States policies. She was traveling north to be reunited with her family. Unable to keep up with the group, she was left behind.
Most die of thirst, while others drown in the desert due to flash floods. It takes days just to cross the mountains. Many are forced to drink from pools of stagnated water ignoring any animal corpse that may be floating in these water holes. Some, out of desperation, drink their own urine. A blister on the foot is literally a death sentence.
These brown people die at our borders as acceptable “collateral damages” of an immigration policy based on the strategy of deterrence through deaths.
Not since the days of Jim Crow has the U.S. government maintained a policy that systemically brings death to a group of people based on their race or ethnicity. Our immigration policies are killing Hispanics.
What occurs along the 1,833-mile border is probably the greatest human-rights crisis presently occurring within the United States. As our people constantly remind us, this is not a border that separates the U.S. from Latin America, it is a bleeding scar caused by the Third World rubbing up against the First.
This “scar” was predicted by a 1993 report titled North American Free Trade Agreement: Assessment of Major Issues, prepared for the U.S. House of Representatives by the U.S. Government Accountability Office.
The report connected the rise of immigration over the next decade to the implementation of NAFTA prior to the trade agreement’s ratification.
When we say that our present immigration policy is broken, we refuse to acknowledge that we are the ones who broke it. Dumping our surplus of subsidized corn (at about $4 billion a year from 1995 to 2004) on Mexico meant a 70 percent drop in Mexican corn prices and a 247 percent increase in housing, food and other living essentials.
Not surprisingly, over a million Mexican farmers lost their land within a year of NAFTA’s ratification. Our trade policy pushes migrants out of Mexico, while our hunger for cheap labor, which native-born Americans don’t want to do, pulls them toward the U.S.
But rather than acknowledge our complicity in causing undocumented immigration and work toward a comprehensive and compassionate immigration reform, we implemented Operation Gatekeeper the same year we ratified NAFTA as our response.
Until then, most migrants crossed into the U.S. through urban centers like San Diego, Nogales and El Paso. Operation Gatekeeper sealed the border at these traditional entry points, pushing the trails through inhospitable mountain ranges and deserts.
Operation Gatekeeper was based on the assumption that migrants would die crossing the desert. Thousands did, including 14-year-old Josseline Jamileth Hernandez Quinteros. These “collateral damages” would serve as a deterrent for other migrants thinking of making the dangerous crossing.
What we now know is that no one was deterred. The Mexican economic shambles we contributed to forced desperate people to attempt any obstacle in the hopes of being able to send money back home to feed their hungry children.
Some of us convicted by faith, others due to humanitarian inclinations, have gone to the desert to leave food and water on the migrant trails, only to be detained by the Border Patrol. We are probably one of the only nations in the world that has made humanitarian aid a crime.
Nevertheless, we continue our efforts because it is the undocumented today who is the hungry, the thirsty, the unwelcomed alien, the sick and, when caught by la migra, the imprisoned. In short, to continue ignoring “the least of these,” we as a nation are at risk of losing our soul.
What we Latino/as need from the first president of color is not the appointment of a few Latina/os to the cabinet or the Supreme Court. This should be the norm, not the exception.
What we Hispanics want, and what the entire nation needs, is a comprehensive immigration reform that is not based on the death of Josseline and the thousands of others who died due to U.S. policy.