Report to UN Race Meeting Slams US Border Policy

Migrant deaths and human rights abuses in communities near the US border with Mexico have risen as the United States has tried to seal the border to illegal immigrants, according to a report to the United Nations racism conference.

Prepared by the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, the report said the 3,380 km US-Mexico border has become a militarized zone where infrared body sensors and footfall detectors -- developed for use in the Vietnam War -- are used to track and capture illegal immigrants.

With an increased law enforcement and military presence the number of migrant deaths increased from 231 in 1999 to 369 last year, according to the report, to be presented on September 3 at the UN global conference on racism, which begins on Friday in Durban, South Africa.

"This report makes it clear that the United States has not eliminated immigrant-related racism by any stretch of the imagination," said Arnoldo Garcia, who directed the report.

The United States is being criticized for snubbing the conference in Durban. The State Department announced earlier this week that Secretary of State Colin Powell would not attend because some of the conference texts contain "offensive" language about Israel and its policies.


"Militarization is causing people to migrate through dangerous areas, where many die. The United States' policies are creating a problem on the border and the United States doesn't want those policies called into question. That's why they aren't here," said Garcia, speaking by telephone from South Africa.

He said the report, based on a nationwide survey of conditions in immigrant communities, found that US citizens often suffer the consequences of an unyielding immigration policy.

A documentation campaign conducted last year in the Juarez/El Paso area, which straddles the border, showed that 71 percent of those mistreated by US officials were American citizens of Mexican extraction, or legal immigrants, the report stated.

In one instance, US Border Patrol agents stopped a bus of students from the border community of El Cenizo, Texas, who were were on their way to a junior high school track event. They were detained for 30 minutes, while agents questioned them about their citizenship, the report said.


The report also detailed the case of an El Cajon, California native who was allegedly beaten when he refused to sign a statement saying that he bought his US birth certificate and driver's license for $16 in Mexico.

Garcia said such abuses have become part of life on the border, and must be stopped. "We want to stop anti-immigrant racism, stop employment discrimination, stop militarization of the border," he said.

A spokeswoman for the US Immigration and Naturalization Service, Leti Zamarripa, said INS agents try to protect the rights of immigrants, while enforcing the law.

"This district is committed to treating detainees and other immigrants with dignity and respect," she said.

Zamarripa declined comment on allegations in the report, saying she had not reviewed it. However, she questioned the research methods used to compile it. "We don't even know where these reports come from. We don't know that the people making them even exist," she said.

The INS investigates complaints of abuse and takes appropriate steps to correct any problems that are confirmed, Zamarripa said.

( 08/302/001)

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