TUCSON, Ariz. – The U.S. Border Patrol purposely drives migrants into remote desert areas, causing hundreds to get lost and disappear in 2015. That’s one finding in a new report by two Tucson-based immigrants’ rights groups.
Researchers combed through reports made to the Missing Migrant Hotline of the group La Coalicion de Derechos Humanos, or Human Rights Coalition. They also surveyed dozens of people deported from Arizona to Nogales, Mexico.
Geoffrey Boyce, with the group No More Deaths, which coauthored the report with La Coalicion de Derechos Humanos, said they found 460 cases of people who vanished last year alone, most while crossing the Sonoran Desert, the Arizona Uplands or the brushlands of South Texas.
“Oftentimes, what we see are small groups of agents encountering large groups of people and essentially, scattering the groups,” he said. “Folks disappear into remote mountains and canyons and are never heard from again.”
The report estimates that 8,600 people have died trying to cross the borderlands from Mexico into the United States since the 1990s. The Border Patrol said it will have apprehended 400,000 people in fiscal year 2016, the lowest level since the early 1970s.
Boyce said the “chase and scatter” tactics are part of a “prevention through deterrence” strategy put into place with Operation Gatekeeper in 1994.
“It expressly stated their intention to push crossing out into these remote and hostile areas, to use it as a barrier to unlawful crossings,” he explained. “This is pushing people out further into harm’s way.”
The report concluded that there is no safe way to catch people trying to cross in remote areas. The groups are calling on Congress to rewrite immigration policy to make it more humane, and to work to alleviate the violence and poverty that motivate people to try to emigrate to the U.S.