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Why People Risk Life And Death Crossing The Border (with A Grades 6-12 Lesson Resource Guide)

Why People Risk Life and Death Crossing the Border (with a Grades 6-12 Lesson Resource Guide)

Peter Temes

[Express link to teaching resources here]

The business of crossing the border without legal admission to the U.S. is deadly. Humanitarian group Border Angels estimates that roughly 10,000 people have died trying to cross the border between Mexico and the U.S. on foot since 1994. The Pima County (AZ) Office of the Medical Examiner reports, through a joint project with the group Humane Borders, 3,339 migrant deaths in the desert south of Tucson between 1999 and 2018.

Why would so many people risk so much?

Fifteen years ago, the answer was often about economic opportunity and most illegal border crossings at the southern border were young Mexican men coming to work work in the U.S. and send money home. These migrants would often say that they planned to return to Mexico or Central American to settle down after reaching their financial goals in the U.S. In some areas, large numbers of laborers would migrate illegally each year, coming as a group to work harvests in one or two areas where farmowners and managers knew and trusted the teams of men. On the other side of the border, entire towns would benefit from the infusion of American earnings.

These migrants are fewer in number today. The higher likelihood of being caught and the life-and-death risks of walking through the desert raise the cost above the benefits.

But others, fleeing violence and persecution, have gorwn in number. The murder rate in Mexico has risen to five times that in the U.S. El Salvador has surpassed even that with the highest murder rate in the world. The grip of cartels on town after town in Mexico and Central America has tightened, and kidnapping, rape and other brutalities are epidemic in the lawless regions. Risking death for the dream of a new life in a society without these brutal fears – especially for parents – can seem less like madness and more like hope.

Consider, as well, the parents who have recently begun sending their children over the bridge between Matamoros, Mexico and El Paso – alone. Mothers and fathers hug children as young as four years old and instruct them to walk away, across the bridge, into the cluster of uniformed, armed U.S. Border Patrol agents at the other end. Sometimes, U.S.-based volunteers accompany the children on that awful walk.

The logic is brutal: these families have already walked the bridge together, already applied for asylum in the U.S., already been interviewed by U.S. asylum officials, and already been found to have credible fear of deadly persecution. And then they have been assigned court dates, generally months in the future and at times beyond a full year. And then they are forced back into Mexico, where a camp of about 2,000 refugees lives mostly in tents, with few basic services. Children with families are expelled with their families after their parents demonstrate credible fear of persecution. But children who come across the bridge alone are not expelled. They enter the detention system, and are placed with relatives, sponsors, or in custodial care.

A recent NPR report offers more on parents making this crushing decision:

Why would a parent do this to a child?

The news from the Matamoros refugee camp answers that question. The camp is unsanitary; illness is rampant. The U.S. offially warns citizens not to travel to the region because of violent crime, including kidnappings and murder.

The Los Angeles Times reports this story from Matamoros:

When 10-year-old Honduran asylum seeker Jose Lopez approached U.S. customs officers on the border bridge between Matamoros and Brownsville this month, they allowed him to enter Texas as an unaccompanied minor.

“In fact, Jose had arrived at the border with his father Aug. 18 and requested asylum, but both of them had been sent back across the border under the Trump administration program known as Remain in Mexico. On Nov. 1, a U.S. immigration judge at a tent court near the bridge ordered them deported, his father, Delmer Lopez, said last week.

Lopez decided to give his son a chance to reach the United States on his own.

“‘He didn’t want to go alone,” Lopez, 36, a refrigeration technician, said as he stood near his tent in a sprawling migrant camp next to the bridge. “But as a father, I didn’t want him living like this. So I decided to take him to the bridge.‘”

PBS offers a powerful documentary from its POV series, titled Al Otro Lado: To the Other Side, telling the story of one young man deciding to leave his town of Sinaloa, Mexico, home to one of the most brutal drug cartels, and risk the journery north to the US without papers. The documentary is from 2004, but the story is an enternal one – the story of how migration begins; that story is the answer to why these brave people take these terrible risks.

The website includes formal lesson plans and a wide and deep range of teaching resources. You can find it here:

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