September 10, 2004

Immigrant Day

By Luis Alonso Perez

When someone dies, their family puts a cross with their name on their grave.

What if someone dies far away from home and their family doesn’t know it? Then there is nobody to cry for, nobody to take a cross to or grave where to come back. If there where any witnesses to his or her death, they will forget about it when time passes. Their death and their name soon will be forgotten.

But when hundreds of people die every year trying to cross the border to the Unites States with hopes of finding a job, their deaths and their names must not be forgotten.

Last Saturday (September 4) 100 crosses where put up on the fence that divides Mexico from the United States, bearing the names of people who have died trying to cross the border. Across the street from Tijuana’s airport, the crosses where blessed by Father Luis Kindzierski, member of the Immigrant’s Defense Coalition, the group responsible for this event, which commemorates the immigrant day.

For many years now the Catholic Church in Mexico has observed the first Sunday of September as immigrant day. For Catholics it’s a moment to reflect upon a situation that continues taking the lives of thousands people from Mexico and Central and South America.

“It’s an invitation to show solidarity with those who find no other option than to risk their lives while and cross the border searching for a better life” said Father Kindzierski, director of “Casa del Migrante Scalabrini” one of the six institutions that conform the coalition.

The setting up of crosses was postponed for more than a year, because last summer, when the death toll started rising astoundingly, the Secretary of Exterior Relations in Mexico changed its’ policies on information release about dead immigrants, refusing to disclose the name and numbers of the deceased.

In order to obtain this information, the Coalition had to resort to the Federal Institute of Information Access, and make the Secretary of Exterior Relations publish those lists.

“The authorities coincidently retained the lists in the most fatal summer” said Claudia Smith, one of the key members in the California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation.

This information is not only needed to put up the crosses, it’s also necessary for the lawsuit that the California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation has filed against the United States Government before the Interamerican Human Rights Commission, arguing that the border control strategies abuse their rights, and demanding compensation for the families of the perished immigrants.

Even with the search and rescue program developed by the Unites States government, the chances of dying while trying to cross the border have nearly doubled since the program started back in the summer of 1998.

Smith believes the explanation for this paradox is that immigrants are being diverted to isolated areas, where their possibilities of being rescued are scarcer. “In average, one immigrant dies every day, particularly women and children who try to reunite themselves with their relatives in the United States”.

Another high risk for immigrants is dying from asphyxia while hidden in vehicles crossing the border, because it has become a more common practice among human traffickers, to hide people in cars trunks, under back seats and dashboards, as well as in trailer containers.

Members from the Immigrant Defense Coalition are skeptical about statements that the new warnings issued by the border patrol will decrease the migration flow, because of the difficult economic situation in Mexico and the constant demand for cheap labor in the Unites States, mostly done by undocumented immigrants.

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