Don’t Leave Migrants to Die in the Desert

border crossing

Target: Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection R. Gil Kerlikowski

Goal: Insist that migrants calling 911 to seek emergency assistance on U.S. soil are not then transferred to Border Patrol

Migrants risk death crossing the deserts of Northern Mexico and the Southern United States to seek better lives for themselves and their families. Poverty and conflict have driven people north towards the border for decades, and the intensity of recent drug wars has only increased their need to flee. Meanwhile the War on Terror has fueled a dramatic expansion of the Border Patrol–with deadly consequences for many migrants seeking illegal entry into the United States.

Allegations of terrible abuse at the hands of Border Patrol agents are not uncommon. Hiring standards and accountability have suffered in an attempt to secure the border against terrorists. Yet when migrants dying in the U.S. desert contact 911 for emergency assistance, they are increasingly transferred to Border Patrol instead. Intentional or not, this sends a clear message: the lives of undocumented migrants are not worth saving.

“Advocates for migrants say this system prioritizes the apprehension and deportation of migrants and leads to needless deaths,” reports Al Jazeera America. “Calls from migrants in distress sometimes bounce from one agency to another, with no mechanism to ensure accountability or track how cases are handled.” Dispatchers at 911 often use racial profiling to determine whether or not a caller should be transferred. Border Patrol may make an effort to find lost and endangered migrants, but many are left to die alone in the desert. A U.S. citizen in the same situation would never be so heartlessly abandoned.

Insist that Border Patrol end its practice of accepting transfers from 911 dispatch. These calls should be handled internally, with local search and rescue teams–because all lives are worth saving.


Dear Commissioner Kerlikowski,

The practice of Border Patrol responding to the 911 distress calls of migrants lost or dying in the desert has not helped keep America safe. It has, however, led to unnecessary deaths. Border Patrol has a primary goal of preventing undocumented migrants from entering the United States, while the sole purpose of emergency responders is to save lives. People are often transferred to Border Patrol based on solely on racial profiling. When they aren’t readily found, they are left to die. Non-profit groups and grieving family members are left to recover their bodies.

These people are dying on U.S. soil. Typically their only crime is the desire to flee intense violence at home, hoping for a better life in America. These are not terrorists; they are human beings. Yet their undocumented status has marked them as undeserving of concerted rescue, and only of apprehension.

Some border communities have struggled with the increasing costs of handling distress calls from migrants. Rather than boost the budget of Border Patrol, with its questionable human rights record, we should increase funding for local emergency services along the border. Commissioner, I must insist that your agency stop accepting 911 transfers from migrants stranded and dying in the wilderness. Let emergency dispatch do the job it was created for: to save lives.


[Your Name Here]

Photo credit: Anonymous via Addicting Info

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