The State of Human Rights on the Border

Photo Credit: Matti Keltanen

When discussing immigration policy, we usually refer to the dangers that immigrants pose to the American economy, society, and welfare system. Much less frequently mentioned are the dangers that the U.S. Border Control and “coyotes” alike pose to the human rights of the hopeful individuals as they attempt to cross the border.

The current manifestation of the U.S.-Mexico border control is a series of fence fragments blocking the areas that are easiest to maneuver, while leaving the harshest areas more open.  The expectation is that such environmental dangers will be sufficient in stopping immigrants from entering the United States.  The areas lacking border patrol are the roads taken by coyote smugglers who attempt to transport groups of immigrants (Feeding the U.S. Labor Market: Rape Trees and the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands).  Although there is no legal record showing the results of coyote activities, their mistreatment of women is evident in the brutally titled “rape trees,” that contain women’s underwear strewn across the tree branches.  The ostensible reasoning behind this display is to threaten those who cross the coyotes, however, the assumption that every pair of underwear hung from a tree has been taken from a female immigrant who faced sexual assault is even more alarming.  Blogger Taylor Owen Ramsey and others contemplate the symbolism of the U.S.-Mexico power dynamics when non-citizens commit crimes on American soil that go unpunished, but talk less about the fact that women are being raped in the U.S., regardless of their citizenship, is a serious problem.  Because anyone who has undergone such an ordeal has also entered the U.S. illegally, it is rare that victims of this abuse will bring it into the public eye.

Unfortunately, the U.S. Border Patrol is not much better when it comes to the protection of immigrants on the border.  PBS recently published a short video series addressing issues with border patrol pertaining to sexual harassment, unnecessarily inhumane treatment, and even torture (Crossing the Line: Need to Know).  Interviewees in the series share their stories of molestation by patrol officers before deportation, away from outside eyes and records.  They tell of crowding cells to double capacity when there are multiple open cells available, water deprivation, and cruel and unusual punishment for would-be immigrants caught on the border.  In another case, a pregnant woman caught on the border of Tijuana was held in a cell and made to sleep on an iron bed frame without a mattress for six months before being released (Women’s Migration Narratives).  Although it is the Border Patrol’s stated intent to do as much as possible to protect the rights and health of anyone found along the border, their actions show otherwise.

In the reality of border-interactions, no one cares about human rights for illegal immigrants.  Neither the people breaking nor the people protecting the borders have any investment in the rights of immigrant-hopefuls.  At a certain point this is not a question of illegal versus legal, or who has the right to be in this country, but what sort of treatment human beings deserve.

One response to “The State of Human Rights on the Border

  1. As you mention, the international humanitarian crisis of migrant deaths along our borders calls for urgent attention and reform to make immigration policy prioritize human life. As Maria Jimenez shows in her research, “Humanitarian Crisis: Migrant Deaths at the U.S.-Mexico Border,” current US practices not only seem to oppose humanitarian aid organizations that attempt to help injured immigrants, but also indicate our government’s non-compliance with obligations in the treatment of the dead and their families. In accordance to your analysis, the Green Part suggests that we need to recognize border crossing deaths as an international humanitarian crisis and shift U.S. Border Patrol resources to rescue immigrants and support humanitarian efforts at the border(Green Party 2012 Platform:Social Justice). Such actions would help decrease inhumane deaths, honor those who have passed away, and eliminate exploitation of undocumented persons and specifically women, as you state, by criminals engaged in human trafficking (Jimenez).

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