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In search of the American Dream: Death along the border

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The article, “Organization works to identify migrants who disappeared along the U.S. Border,” highlights a small piece of the deadly gambit that many illegal migrants face in their search for the American Dream.

The Colibri Center for Human Rights works to help identify the remains of immigrants who have died along the Mexican border with Arizona. According to the article, 169 would-be immigrants died in 2013, 95 remain unidentified. Colibri’s database currently contains more than 2000 immigrants that have gone missing along the border.

The hot desert of Arizona claims many in its unforgiving and hostile environment. But many more lives are lost along the 1900+ mile border, stretching from Imperial Beach, California to Brownsville, Texas. Crossing into the United States, whether by foot, boat or with the aid of a smuggler, has tremendous risks that often result in the death of immigrants.

As a Border Patrol Agent for more than 25 years, I often read accounts of the plight of individuals and groups and, far too often, personally witnessed the aftermath of those who paid the ultimate price in their failed attempt to better their lives.

Once a body is discovered, it usually becomes the respective counties’ responsibility. Many border counties are poor and have had, in past years, neither the resources nor the inclination to properly identify and or find the relatives of the deceased, instead arranging for a ‘pauper’s burial’ with only the bare expense incurred.

In the area I worked in Texas for more than a dozen years, we encountered immigrants who died while traversing the inhospitable terrain, but far more common were those that died on the train tracks or on the trains.

Many would-be immigrants believe that rattlesnakes will not cross train tracks and therefore sleep between the rails, sure that the loud roar of a train will wake them in plenty of time. Far too often the train would catch unsuspecting immigrants in its path. I remember a group of six that were killed on the tracks near Brackettville, Texas. The only way they determined there were six was by the shoes they recovered…

Many others die after ingesting rat poisoning in the grain cars they have chosen to hide within or die from the heat and stagnant air of the enclosed metal containers they so often believe will be their chariot to a better life.

Death awaits unsuspecting or unlucky immigrants all along the border, seeming to know that these individuals are willing to face death to better their lives.

Generally the discovery of a body along the southern border leads to a quick and inexpensive burial, leaving the families of the men and women who had perished to forever wonder what had become of their loved one.

Over the decades, thousands of families have lost loved ones who are now buried in graves without their relatives ever being notified. Far too many are never identified and buried as unknowns.

The illegal immigrants’ search for the American Dream is one of danger and death. The bodies and bones of the unfortunate litter the southern cemeteries or still lie undiscovered in some isolated area of the southern border.

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