March 21, 2008
“Forget About ‘Em Fereigners”
Immigration: “to enter and usually become established; especially: to come into a country
of which one is not a native for permanent residence”1. Mexicans who cross the borders make
treacherous, unpredictable and dangerous paths to seek an opportunity for work, for education,
for a new life, to visit a family member or participate in an indigenous ceremony on either side—
or simply to pass tamales to their friendly neighbors through the fence. Immigrants are a
historically marginalized group exposed to human rights abuses by governmental agencies such
as the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) that includes Border Patrol. “Everyone
has the right to life, liberty, and security of person,2” that is, everyone except immigrants and
U.S. citizens who “look like” immigrants, frankly those of Mexican or Native American descent.
Perhaps the Department of Homeland Security and President Bush misread the
international covenants when it passed the Secure Fence Act of 2006 to build an estimated 850-
mile wall to be completed by May 30, 2008.3 Maybe they were a little confused. However, others
in public office were not confused. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist referred to the border
crossings as a “humanitarian crisis” in 2006 and the Center for Disease Control & Prevention
(CDC) have deemed it a “major public health issue”4. Total deaths from 1995 to 2005 are
estimated at 3,600, which is “10 times deadlier to migrants from Mexico during the past nine
years than the Berlin Wall was to East Germans throughout its 28-year existence”5 What
2 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. ONLINE. http://www.un.org/Overview/rights.html
4 Rubio-Goldsmith, and McCormick, M. Melissa; Martinez, Daniel; and Duarte, Inez M. (Binational Migration Institute). The ‘Funnel Effect’ &
Recovered Bodies of Unauthorized Migrants Processed by the PIMA County Office of the Medical Examiner, 1990-2005. Mexican American
Studies & Research Center, University of Arizona. October 2006.
5 U.S. General Accounting Office. Illegal Immigration: Border-Crossing Deaths Have Doubled Since 1995; Border Patrol’s Efforts to Prevent
Deaths Have Not Been Fully Evaluated. ONLINE. GPO Access. August 2006. Available: http://www.gpoaccess.gov/gaoreports/index.html [10
March 21, 2008
happened to the “inherent right to life”?6
On a lighter note, here are some fun facts: Approximately 17.5 million of the foreign-
born came from Latin America in 2003; Hispanics are the largest and fastest growing minority in
the United States, comprising approximately 15.5 percent of the total U.S. population7; and
immigrant workers provide Americans with cheaper goods8. Immigrants boost the economy by
providing services in numerous industries such as agriculture, business, education, auto, and
more. They go shopping, they buy cars, cell phones, and Ipods if their incomes afford. Similar to
many Americans, they both provide and purchase services.
However, immigrants and migrants (those who move to find regular work such as
farmworkers) are feared and they are accused of taking away American jobs. They are resented
yet lured into the American dream to seek a better life or simply to feed their families back
home. Border security has been a hot topic in politics and in mainstream media over the years.
Unfortunately, though, border security means more than just a political debate to U.S. citizens
living at the border and immigrants crossing; it means risk, abuse, and often times death.
Illegal cross-border deaths increased 20-fold from 1990 to 2005, the majority of which
occurred in the U.S. Border Patrol sector of Tucson.9 To tighten U.S. Borders, President Bush
signed the Security Fence Act in 2006 that gave the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)
the right to waive all laws to build a wall along the U.S. Southwest borders to deter immigration.
What is more fearful than immigrants walking day and night across deserts, through tunnels, and
through sewages with the few belongings they carry on their backs? Could it be that they will
become terrorists? Could it be because those “fereigners” supposedly steal American jobs and
6 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Article 6, Section 1 states: “Every human being has the inherent right to life.”
8 www.pewhispanic.org; http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5312900
9 Ibid Footnote 5.
March 21, 2008
“eat up” the nation’s tax dollars? Or could it be that the DHS wholeheartedly wants to avoid
deaths at the border? In this essay, I will discuss the ironies of U.S. policies that on one hand are
supposed to make the borders more secure but in reality have violated international law time and
again and have failed to recognize human and cultural rights of both U.S. and Mexican citizens.
Over the past few centuries, the United States and Mexico have maintained a love-hate
relationship: from the time of the U.S.-Mexico War in 1843 that redefined the U.S. borders, to
the Minute Men10 in 2006 who recruited citizens to volunteer as Border Patrol agents. (Cheers to
free labor!)11 Historically, during labor shortages, Mexicans were welcomed with open arms; but
when Americans needed jobs such as during the Great Depression of the 1930s, “hundreds of
thousands of people of Mexican descent were ‘repatriated’ to Mexico even though more than
half were U.S. citizens.”12 History repeated itself and in 1954 alone more than a million people
were expelled thanks to “Operation Wetback.” Once again, many US citizens (of Mexican and/or
Native American descent) were denied their constitutional rights.
Just as U.S. policies in action historically contradicted international, constitutional and civil
rights—not to mention, included racist labels—the 1990s were hardly an era of improvement,
only now there were euphemisms that sounded a bit more diplomatic. Illegal Immigration
Reform, Immigrant Responsibility Act, Operation Gatekeeper, Operation Hold the Line,
Operation Rio Grande, and Southwest Border Strategy were a few of the policies that would
supposedly deter immigrants from crossing the border. These “prevention-through-deterrence
measures” intended to deter immigrants from populated cities like San Diego and El Paso to
11 I apologize in advance if my sarcastic comments are offensive but please be warned that my essay is in no short supply of sarcasm.
12 Amnesty International. United States of America. Human Rights Concerns with the Border Region with Mexico. May 1998. ONLINE.
http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/info/AMR51/003/1998/en [10 March 2008].
March 21, 2008
more remote and dangerous areas such as the Arizona Sonora desert13.
U.S. policies certainly did their job of deterring—at a cost of a 20-fold increase in deaths.
The Binational Migration Institute found that:
“U.S. policies did create the ‘funnel effect’ and that it is indeed the primary
structural cause of death of thousands of North American, Central American, and
South American unauthorized men, women, and children who have died while
trying to enter the U.S.”14
The Pima County Medical Examiner’s Office (PCMEO) handled 90 percent (927 recovered
bodies) of the unauthorized border-crosser deaths recovered from 1990 to 2005, the majority of
corpses found within the Southwest border.
Although the U.S. government has not admitted that its’ policies were responsible for the
surge in deaths due to exposure to extreme heat (heatstroke) or cold (hypothermia)15, to its credit,
it has tried alternative solutions for immigration. In 1994, Border Patrol created the Citizens
Advisory Panel in response to complaints about abuse at the border.16 In 2004, the Interior
Repatriation Program was a test-pilot program funded by Arizona taxpayers that gave
immigrants who volunteered for the program a free plane ride back home instead of dropping
them off along the Arizona borders. Since complaints regarding abuses were not sufficiently
addressed and plane rides proved costly, why not build a $3 million per mile fence?
In 2006, the Secure Fence Act and the SBInet Program gave DHS the right to waive all
laws to expedite the construction of a fence along California, Arizona, and Texas. However, even
Secretary Chertoff of DHS admitted that a “fence by itself can be tunneled under or climbed
over,” which is why measures included doubling Border Patrol staff and constructing 28 miles of
13 Ibid Footnote 4.
14 Ibid Footnote 4.
15 The Department of Justice did not comment on the draft compiled by the BMI regarding its findings although DHS did.
16 Ibid Footnote 12.
March 21, 2008
“high-tech cameras, sensors, and aerial surveillance.”17 There seems to be a disconnection
between so-called “border security” and recognition of “human rights.”
Humanitarian assistance requires emergency relief when migrants get trapped in trailers; 18
starve or die of thirst for lack of food and water in the desert; or become vulnerable to theft,
assault, and/or drug trafficking-related disputes that end in death. In especially dangerous areas,
rescue beacons were installed so migrants could push a button to activate a sensor to call for help
to the Border Patrol Search, Trauma, and Rescue (BORSTAR) teams. The beacons clearly signal
the recognition that emergency humanitarian relief is needed, while as if simultaneously saying,
Only if or when you are near your deathbed, will we come rescue you. Perhaps it falls within the
guidelines of Article 12(d) of the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural
Rights (ICESC) that assures to provide “all medical service and medical attention in the event of
sickness,” although death one would argue is beyond the stage of sickness.
In addition to poor U.S. policies, Amnesty International documented the following human
rights violations during the 1990s:
! “Persons detained by the INS have been subjected to cruel, inhuman or degrading
treatment, including beatings, sexual assault, denial of medical attention, and denial
of food, water and warmth for long periods;”
! Increased violence due to the use of armed U.S. military troops who have assisted
INS, including the shooting of an 18-year-old U.S. citizen in Texas on May 20,
! Harassment, assault, physical violence, detainment, interrogation, and deportation
on the basis of ethnicity (Latin American and Native American descent, including
U.S. citizens, legal permanent residents, and juveniles); and
! Lack of adequate legal advice and representation for juveniles (a violation of
March 21, 2008
Article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights)19.
One of DHS’s solutions was to increase Border Patrol but why should citizens (whether
U.S., Mexican, or Native American) along the border feel more secure if Border Patrol agents
are the ones committing the human rights abuses? It is similar to the post 9-11 debate to give
pilots guns to protect themselves and their passengers from terrorists, but what happens when the
pilots are the terrorists?
The question then becomes, Who are we truly trying to protect? If those living at the
border do not feel safe; if there is little to no evidence that a multi-million dollar fence will
secure U.S. borders; if communities are torn apart as a result and children left to wonder why
their families are fenced off on the other side or why they themselves are fenced inside, then,
why should immigrants obey laws restricting their “right to work, to free choice of employment,
to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment”20 when the
U.S. government itself does not comply with international law?
If you are not depressed enough yet, the following are more examples of U.S. violations of
! In one case, a Border Patrol agent “for no apparent reason knocked Nieden [a
15-year-old girl] down to the ground and kicked her about twenty times,” and
then “stood on her chest with one boot and kicked her with the other, causing
deep leg and chest bruises”—as if there should be any “apparent reason” for
! In another case, a Border Patrol agent held a pistol to Bowie High School’s
(El Paso, Texas) football coach, Benjamin Murillo;
! Yet in several other cases, Native American Indians were not allowed to cross
19 Article 9 of the ICCPR states: “(1). Everyone has the right to liberty and security of person. No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest or
detention. No one shall be deprived of his liberty except on such grounds and in accordance with such procedure as are established by law. (2).
Anyone who is arrested shall be informed, at the time of arrest, of the reasons for his arrest and shall be promptly informed of any charges against
20 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 23. ONLINE. http://www.un.org/Overview/rights.html
March 21, 2008
the border to visit family and attend native ceremonies, but instead were
harassed for not complying with INS documentation, a clear violation of
Article 15(a) of the ICESC “to take part in cultural life.”
II. Problem: To Build a Fence, or Not Build a Fence, That Is—or rather, was—the Question
Building a fence will not prevent human rights abuses; it will not stop immigration; nor
will it comply with international law. Thus far, the 131 miles of fence have provoked just the
opposite: confiscation of land, disregard to cross-border tribal land21, and lawsuits resulting from
citizens who refused to allow Border Patrol onto their school property. Among the many
problems arising from immigration and security issues, perhaps the most appalling possibility is
deportation to a strange land (i.e. U.S. citizens deported from their homeland because of their
descent), or worst, being sued for seeking to protect your own rights. U.S. citizens and
immigrants fear reprisal and receive little assistance from the very agencies that provide
The U.S. federal government sued landowners and the Rio Grande school district for not
allowing Border Patrol to access their land.22 Such lawsuits contradict Article 13 of the ICESCR
that states: “Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and the
sense of its dignity.”23 What happened to “No Child Left Behind”? Along the Texas borders:
“Many of the children come from Mexico and 99 percent are Hispanic. They have brothers,
sisters, aunts, uncles, grandmothers and grandfathers, living a mile away on the other side of
where that fence will be,” said Roel Gonzalez, Rio Grande CISD Superintendent. “I understand
the need for border security but it is really hard for me to explain to the children why their
21 There are 26 U.S.-federally recognized Native American tribes in the border region that range from 9 to 17,000 members.
22 Taylor, Steve. “How can I explain the border wall to students, ask RGC CISD Superintendant.” 18 March 2008.
23 International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights. Article 13.
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families are going to be fenced off.” 24
School is supposed to be a safe place for children to learn, a haven to live, laugh, and play.
However, how can children play outside if their parents fear Border Patrol harassment despite
being U.S. citizens, or when children are required to carry papers around proving their
citizenship? How can parents roam freely along their respective communities (within their own
country) as guaranteed by Article 11 of the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights
(ICCPR) without being detained, harassed, or questioned for “looking” suspicious? One does not
live freely or at ease in such a situation and certainly is denied the “right to liberty of movement
and freedom to choose his residence” 25.
In addition to human rights abuses, the Center for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) has
deemed border crossings a “major public health issue.” In southern Arizona, emergency medical
staff has indicated that:
“After being traumatized by or in a motor vehicle accident, some number of pregnant
UBCs [Unidentified Border Crossings] have survived but lost their unborn children to
‘intrauterine fetal demise.’”26
Such deaths are not tallied since they do not go to the medical examiner’s office. In addition to
future mothers’ vulnerability, there has been a statistically significant increase in heat-related
deaths from 1990 to 2005. According to CDC, “heat-related illnesses include sunburn, heat
cramps, heat rash, heat exhaustion, and heatstroke,” to which the elderly and children are the
most vulnerable.27 Another health problem to worry about: Those living at the border may be
25 Article 11, (1) of ICCPR states: “Everyone lawfully within the territory of a State shall, within that territory, have the right to liberty of
movement and freedom to choose his residence. (2). Everyone shall be free to leave any country, including his own.”
26 Ibid Footnote 4.
27 Center for Disease Control & Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm5126a2.htm
March 21, 2008
exposed to Dengue Hemorrhagic Fever.28
As if Border Patrol abuse, lawsuits, the chance of getting hit by a truck, dying of heat or
Dengue Fever were not enough, immigrants are also exposed to environmental health hazards at
the border and in the fields. They do not enjoy “the highest attainable standard of health”29 and
as temporary migrant farmworkers are exposed to innumerous toxic pesticides that can lead to
pesticide-related illnesses and higher morbidity rates.30
You are probably wondering by now if I have any good news. Well, perhaps one of the
positive effects of the Secure Fence Act of 2006 has been the creation of coalitions of newly
formed grassroots organizations comprised of citizens, mayors, businessowners, landowners, and
community leaders that demand the U.S. government (particularly DHS) comply with human,
environmental, and cultural rights laws.31 These organizations have organized marches, rallies,
speakers, and other events and informative means of educating the public about the human rights
issues at the border. In addition, fortunately—yet finally—just on March 20, 2008, DHS dropped
its lawsuit against the University of Texas at Brownsville and Texas Southmost College, which
will stall (and hopefully halt) the construction of the fence for reevaluation and consultation of
those living along the border.32 Nonetheless, border residents and human rights groups are
precarious about trusting that DHS will halt construction and they will closely monitor its next
28 Center for Disease Control & Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm5631a1.htm
29 Constitution of the World Health Organization.
30 Center for Disease Control & Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/pesticides/ijoec2001.html
31 http://www.borderambassadors.com/; www.noborderwall.com; http://www.riograndeguardian.com/rggnews_story.asp?story_no=18. I was
fortunate enough to hear leaders of the No Border Wall coalition speak at the Public Interest Environmental Law Conference in Eugene, Oregon
on March 8, 2008. See http://www.pielc.org/ for more details regarding this annual conference.
March 21, 2008
III. Recommendations and Solutions
The immigration “problem” cannot be solved overnight. Nonetheless, I recommend the
following strategies that may decrease border deaths and prevent human rights abuses:
1. The Bush Administration, top government officials, and Border Patrol should read the
Government Accountability Office Report (2006);
2. The federal government, particularly DHS, openly communicate with citizens living along
the border and highly consider their input based on city council meeting surveys and
coalition leaders instead of resorting to lawsuits, which may include a toll-free hotline for
those abused by Border Patrol agents or at least a media campaign to inform border
citizens who to contact when such abuses occur;
3. Health officials and organizations such as the PCMEO that report death and injury
statistics conjointly design a uniform method for data compilation;33
4. Instead of rescue beacons, INS should conduct a cost-benefit analysis of providing water
fountains and Honey Buckets to prevent dehydration and limit human waste. Perhaps on
the same token, INS should compare the above program costs to the cost of providing
emergency relief (i.e. overflowing morgues, helicopter, and hospital costs) and conduct a
study to quantify or at least estimate how much immigrants contribute to our state and
national economies by way of purchasing power and providing cheap labour;
5. Minute Men work as farmworkers for a day alongside their Mexican counterparts, or that
they participate in a cross-cultural exchange either through a border educational institution
or through role play where each group lives like the other for a day;
6. Border Patrol should be given anti-violence training and severe punishment when they
violate human rights (i.e. to tame cases of over-abuse of power);
7. The U.S. government ratify international treaties to assure international pressure for human
Centuries of debate around immigration issues, a history of a love-hate relationship
between the U.S. and Mexico, and in times of war, peace, and economic downturns, Mexicans
33 According to the GAO Report (2006), deaths and border injuries accounted for vary since most entities report such statistics in different ways.
March 21, 2008
and ethnic minorities have carried the burden of racism and abuse on their shoulders. Certainly
that is not to say that immigrants or foreigners should be excluded from the law, but rather, that
U.S. policies and federal agencies not abuse the law in the name of “security.”
Unfortunately, I did not have room to discuss in this essay the many other ironies of U.S.
policies and international trading policies (i.e. border population growth due to the North
American Free Trade Agreement’s surge in maquiladoras, foreign—mainly U.S.-owned—
assembly plants along border towns).34 The mere complexity of immigration involves an ever-
increasing need for a holistic approach in policy development that should consider poverty,
economic development, all types of rights, and cultural competency.
If children are to be raised in a society of honesty, integrity, and security, perhaps racist
remarks such as “stop ‘em fereigners”—as my Grandpa, a World War II veteran, would say—
should be outlawed. But then again, this is a country of free speech and outlawing such
vocabulary would not get to the root of the problem; it would just suppress the historical
institutional racism that few government entities and Americans have openly discussed. Perhaps
when government entities admit their wrongdoings and do what they can to correct them; when a
mutual understanding between racists who also live in fear, albeit their jobs which could certainly
entail their livelihood, and immigrants who risk their lives to find work; when Americans
prioritize human rights over cheap products…only perhaps, then might there be peace among
34 Gruben, William C. Was NAFTA Behind Mexico’s High Maquiladora Growth? Economic and Financial Review (Third Quarter), 2001.