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  HOME | Opinion (Click here for more)

Peña: U.S. Can’t Wait for More Border Massacres to Reform Immigration

By Maria Peña

WASHINGTON – The massacre of 72 northbound migrants in Mexico is yet another tragic deed that points up the need for the U.S. Congress to approve longed-for immigration reform.

Up until their deaths at the hands of drug traffickers last week, their story was one that has been repeated thousands of times in Latin America: migrants who sell their belongings, leave their families and head for the United States laden with dreams and plans to attain them.

Congressional leaders cannot argue that they aren’t aware of that reality. Dozens of studies document it, the Homeland Security Department keeps statistics on arrests and deportations, and several immigrants have provided legislative testimony of their journeys and border crossings.

Lawmakers and groups on both sides of the immigration debate now point to this kind of incident as an example of the urgent need to resolve the problem of illegal immigration in the United States.

If they agree on anything, it is that while there is poverty in migrant-sending countries and there are people in the United States who will hire them, often under exploitative circumstances, undocumented immigrants will keep coming here and will not leave.

Along the border, at least 1,050 migrants have died in just Pima County, Arizona, since 2000. So far this year, at least 170 have perished along the entire southern U.S. border.

But death by dehydration, animal bites or heatstroke does not deter the migrants. They are betting that they will be able to avoid the security measures along the border and arrive safe and sound at their destination.

If they have to pay at least $5,000 to get a “coyote” to help them cross through the deserts and mountains along the border, they do so because hunger is pushing them and because, in the long run, their goal is to save money for a future more promising than the past of poverty and lack of opportunities that they left behind.

That is the context within which one must understand why Latin Americans continue emigrating from their countries and why people trafficking has become such a big business.

Thus, the mass murder of the immigrants should not surprise anyone since for a long time experts have been warning that organized crime has found that exploiting migrants is an easy way to get rich.

Following the law of “silver or lead,” the criminal bands – often colluding with corrupt police – carry out their threat to kill migrants who cannot pay their ransoms or fees to pass through the zones and along the routes controlled by the drug traffickers.

That was apparently the fate of the 72 migrants on a ranch in the northeastern Mexican state of Tamaulipas, some 160 kilometers (99 miles) from the Texas border.

The only known survivor of the massacre, Ecuadorian Luis Freddy Lala Pomavilla, 18, told authorities that 10 men who identified themselves as members of the fearsome Zetas drug cartel intercepted them in five vehicles as they were making their way toward the border.

The armed men tied them up and took them to the ranch, where they offered them jobs with their organization, Lala said. When the majority refused, the narcos blindfolded them, forced them to lie down on the ground and shot them.

It is not known exactly how many times this type of incident has been repeated in Mexico, and whether any victims have survived such massacres but are keeping quiet out of fear of reprisals. The common graves that turn up are a constant reminder of the brutality and outrages to which narcos are resorting with greater frequency.

Each year, about 20,000 migrants are kidnapped in Mexico by criminal bands who “act with total impunity,” according to the complaints of several Mexican civil organizations on the basis of reports by their country’s independent National Human Rights Commission.

The government in Washington has reiterated its political support for the anti-drug fight in Mexico.

But, given the humanitarian crisis in Mexico resulting from the abuses perpetrated upon the migrants on their journey north, it must be asked how many more deaths must occur for Congress to give greater urgency to immigration reform in the United States? EFE

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