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ACLU: Rise in Border Crossing Deaths Are ‘Humanitarian Crisis’

Fifteen years after the United States first instituted “Operation Gatekeeper” to reinforce the U.S.-Mexican border with more agents, walls and fences, the American Civil Liberties Union has released a report concluding that the enforcement effort has been deadly.

The report — a joint effort of the ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties and Mexico’s Commission of Human Rights — estimates that between 3,800 and 5,600 people have died trying to cross the border since 1994. The numbers of deaths have risen in recent years as the United States has funded more border enforcement, even though there are actually fewer people entering the United States now due to the economic downturn, and border arrests have declined. An analysis completed this year of bodies recovered in the most dangerous sections of the border, for example, found that the risk of dying was 1.5 times higher in 2009 than in 2004, and 17 times higher than in 1998.

The report, Humanitarian Crisis: Migrant Deaths at the U.S.-Mexico Border, blames the increase in deaths on aggressive U.S. enforcement policies initiated in the name of national security, and says that rather than create security, they’ve created a “humanitarian crisis.”

“Operation Gatekeeper intentionally forced undocumented immigrants to extreme environments that increased the likelihood of injury or death,” the report concludes.

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

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