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- 05-27-2005, 01:07 PM #1
Border Patrol: We Tally Dead Migrants Better
http://www.tucsoncitizen.com/index.php? ... _advocates
Friday, May 27, 2005
Border Patrol: We'll tally dead migrants better
Tucson sector Border Patrol chief Michael Nicley acknowledged that the Border Patrol might be undercounting illegal immigrant deaths and said he would rectify any discrepancy with medical examiners' numbers.
Last year, the Border Patrol counted 172 illegal immigrant deaths in Arizona, nearly 50 fewer than the 221 that medical examiners counted.
Nicley said the agency had no interest in intentionally underrepresenting numbers, as many migrant advocates have charged, but he conceded, "I certainly know it gives the appearance of that."
His interest is in getting an accurate picture of how many are dying, he said.
"The numbers are what they are," he said. "These are human beings out there. We need to be capturing that data."
The public needs to know the Border Patrol is aware of the magnitude of the problem, Nicley said, "and that we're taking steps to address it,"
The Border Patrol will analyze all cases that medical examiners have classified as involving migrants who died trying to enter the country illegally, Nicley said. The agency would include any of the deaths that met the Border Patrol's criteria, regardless of whether the bodies were found by Border Patrol agents, Nicley said.
If a body is found by Tohono O'odham police, "it should be included in our figures," Nicley said, referring to a case from Tuesday that went unrecorded by the Border Patrol. That agency's current statistics include only those deaths that involve Border Patrol agents.
The analysis would go back as far as possible to make sure Border Patrol figures are accurate, he said.
The chief would not explain how the discrepancy occurred, but he bristled at the idea that anyone would think Border Patrol had sinister intentions or was "cooking the books" to lower the death count.
That would be an insult to the hard work Border Patrol agents do every day to save lives, Nicley said.
Lives such as those of 27-year-old Julio Cesar Salazar and his brother, 30-year-old Manuel.
Salazar said they would have died in the desert this week had the Border Patrol not found them.
The brothers, construction workers from Durango, Mexico, had been walking with a large group when they ran out of water and became too weak to go on. The group continued without them. They lay on the desert floor for three days, unable to move and vomiting in temperatures that hovered around 110 degrees.
On the third day, passing migrants gave them a little of their own water.
"That gave us enough energy to start a fire," Salazar said. "We wanted to attract help."
A Border Patrol rescue helicopter saw the smoke and swooped down. Agents placed the men on gurneys and airlifted them to St. Mary's Hospital on Tucson's West Side.
"We wouldn't have lasted another day," Salazar said.
The Border Patrol saved scores of people in nearly 50 rescues during the weekend, according to Border Patrol statistics.
But activists said it's Border Patrol policy that endangers people such as the Salazars in the first place.
Several of Tucson's principal human-rights groups gathered yesterday at El Tiradito shrine on South Main Street for what they called an emergency news conference to respond to the migrant deaths during the past week. They blamed U.S. border policy for pushing illegal immigrants into the remote desert, where they have a greater chance of dying.
The speakers expressed frustration and anger at the mounting number of illegal immigrant deaths deaths. More than 3,000 illegal immigrants have died trying to cross the border since the U.S. crackdown 10 years ago. For the past couple of years, more than half of the deaths have occurred in Arizona.
"The whole world knows about this problem, but we still haven't done anything," said Ted Cooper, a volunteer with Humane Borders, an organization that tries to prevent illegal immigrant deaths by putting water tanks in the desert.
The speakers urged Tucsonans to press for political reform, and in the meantime to join one of the many humanitarian groups trying to save lives on a daily basis.
Pancho Medina, a local videographer, came to the news conference because he said didn't want any more people to die because of U.S. policy.
He still shakes when he describes a group of men he encountered during the weekend along State Route 286, the road to Sasabe. Medina said he gave them water and Border Patrol agents later arrived and provided aid.
"A young kid approached our car. He was crying, pleading for his life," Medina said, wiping tears from his own eyes. "He was so worried about his uncle, who was lying down and couldn't move anymore. They were dehydrated. Delirious. It was awful."
For more border coverage, go to www.tucsoncitizen.com/border.