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Globalization Along Our Border & In Our Backyard

The following presentation was given in November 2000 as a Cal State Fullerton Geography Department Brown Bag Lecture.

I have recently gone on a couple of  "Reality Tours" with a human rights  organization called Global Exchange, and I was so amazed at the things  that I saw and heard that so I wanted to bring some of it back and share it with you.

The trip that I recently went on was to the US-Mexico border where we spent four days looking at various human rights issues that are becoming especially critical with the increasing globalization of our border.  We stayed in Tijuana,  and during our stay we visited factories ("maquiladoras"), talked to local activists, heard about environmental problems in the area, and looked at illegal immigration and the current US program to curb the flow.  And all that we did was really focused on globalization and how the increasing interaction between our nations is impacting Mexicans who live along our shared border.

We often hear about the awesome forces of globalization, and we tend to imagine this 'globalization' thing swarming all around us, causing those 'inevitable' changes that we so frequently hear about.  Yet the more I read about it and think about it, the less inevitable much of it appears. In fact, there is nothing inevitable  about much of the globalization that is sweeping across the world.  Instead, many such changes are the result of policies and decisions made by actual  human beings. It may seem a silly point, but it is an important kind of premise to what I am going to talk about today and what the whole trip was about. When we talk about the human impacts of globalization, it is important to see the people impacted,  of course, but also see that this isn't some 'natural phenomenon.'  And because a lot of what we call globalization is the result of decisions by   people, not magical, mysterious forces, those decisions can be questioned--they should be questioned--and reviewed and assessed as to whether it’s a good system  (dare I say "fair"), and what can be changed and improved.

Of course, there are many well-known benefits of globalization, and, likewise, the notion that there are also negatives of globalization is widely acknowledged. Indeed, most people do acknowledge that there will be some losers in the "globalization" game.  We have all heard statistics, such as...

  • In Latin America there are 240 million human beings without the necessities of life, and  this when the region is richer and more stable than ever, and   during a time in which free trade and other hallmarks of globalization are more present than ever.
  • Back in 1995, Oxfam had economists forecast the benefits to various regions of the World Trade Organization by 2002.  This group of experts concluded that the European Union will have gained $80 billion from trade liberalization, while Africa will have lost $2.6 billion.
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So there are clearly winners  and losers in the globalization game, and I am going to talk about some of the 'losers' today. But one last thought before I do... Many economists are saying that globalization will, among other  things, extend the Third World model to industrialized countries, creating  a society that is two-tiered-- with a small sector of extreme wealth &  privilege on one end and a large sector of the masses on the other end (the 'superfluous' people).  What?  The losers of globalization aren't just 'out there'? They are here?  That is something to think about!  There are certainly statistics that seem to support this trend:
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  • According to a recent Census Bureau report, there has been a 50% increase in the working poor (people who have jobs but are still below the poverty level).
  • The Lancet , the British medical journal (which is the most prestigious medical journal in the world) recently published a study which found that 40% of children in New York City live below poverty level, and suffer from malnutrition and other conditions that accompany poverty.
  • The New England Journal of Medicine (the American answer to the Lancet) recently studied the mortality rates of black males in Harlem and found that they average around the same as in Bangladesh!
  • Business Week reports "The gap between high- and low-income families has widened steadily since about 1980, hitting a new high every year since 1985."
  • Lastly, U.S. Secretary of Labor Robert Reich adds "We have the most unequal distribution of income of any industrial nation in the world ... we can't be a prosperous or stable society with a huge gap between the very rich & everyone else."
I mention all these statistics  because when I have discussed this notion with people recently, I generally  get a response similar to "No, I don’t believe that."  And  maybe these economists who are projecting a growing income gap in the United  States are entirely wrong?  There are statistics to support it, yet we all know that statistics can be found to support anything. Regardless,  I think it is interesting to consider, and so I have decided to include examples in the US when we talk about negative impacts of globalization on Mexicans who live along our border.  Because chances are--it's not just "out there."

One of the main focuses of the trip was to look at the working conditions in the booming maquiladora industries. Maquiladoras  are foreign-owned factories, about half of which are US owned, that assemble  imported components and raw materials into finished products, then export  the products, mostly to the United States.  There are over 3,000 maquiladoras  in Mexico, about a quarter of which are in the Tijuana area. Employing over one million workers nationwide, the maquiladoras are an important source employment in much of Mexico.  In fact, in the Tijuana area, maquiladora employment accounts for over 50% of all jobs!  So where better to go than Tijuana to look at the maquiladora industry and its impacts on the local communities in which they are found.
One of the people we met with was Manuel Garcia-Lepe, the Strategic Alliances  Executive Officer at the Economic Development Department for the State of Baja California.  Garcia-Lepe spoke with us about the maquiladoras in the area, and essentially gave us the powerpoint presentation that he gives potential investors.  In his presentation, he details the many benefits of the Tijuana area, including its close proximity to the enormous and wealthy US market.  Maquiladoras are indeed huge here—from metal stamping, food and beverage, to packaging and electronics.  In fact, Tijuana is the “TV capital of the world”, assembling over 25 million TVs annually. Companies from all over the world have set up shop along the border zone.  American and Japanese brands predominate, and include 3M, Mattel, Hughes Aircraft, Honeywell, Tonka  Toys, Black & Decker, Fisher Price, Hasbro, Mitsubishi, Sony, Canon, Casio, Sanyo, Maxell, and Sharp.  Korea’s Samsung and Hyundai also have plants, as do companies from Taiwan, the People’s Republic of China,  Singapore, and eight EU countries.  Clearly, these maquiladoras are a major feature on the landscape and in the lives of those who live along the border.
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There is a pervasive belief  that "all parties benefit from this industrial system," as Mexicans gain a significant number of jobs and foreign owners benefit from Mexico's low wage rates, which average less than 30 percent of those north of the border.   Indeed, it seems like a perfect solution…from a macroeconomic level. But, in fact, ALL parties do not benefit from this system. In the United States, maquiladoras would most likely be called sweatshops. Workers average six to seven days a week, work 10-15 hour shifts with few breaks, and often  work in conditions that are hazardous to their health. Maybe you are saying…  "Eh, that happens all over the place."  And it does. Or you are thinking,  "that looks like a nice, clean place to work".  This was indeed a nice factory—which is probably part of the reason why we were allowed to  tour this one. The technology inside is actually quite impressive, and it is very clean.  Plants that assemble electronic components have to be very clean, of course.  So what could be the problem?

In short…workers at these maquiladoras DO NOT EARN A LIVING WAGE.  They don't even come close to earning a liveable wage.  As you can see on this chart, a maquiladora  worker has to work for hours just to buy basic food items.  The average maquiladora worker earns between $0.80 and $1.25 an hour—basically $50 a week.

Hours of Maquiladora Work Required to Buy Basic Necessities
(1 kg. is equivalent to 2.2 lbs.)
Beans, 1 kg 4 hrs
Rice, 1 kg 1 hr, 26 mins
Corn Tortillas, 1 kg 40 mins
Chile Peppers, 1/8 kg 1 hr, 15 mins
Tomatoes, 1 kg 1 hr, 35 mins
Beef, 1 kg 8 hrs
Chicken, 1 kg 3 hrs
Eggs, 1 doz 2 hrs, 24 mins
Vegetable Oil, 1 ltr 2 hrs, 25 mins
Limes, 1 kg 1 hr, 20 mins
Milk, 1 gal 4 hrs, 17 mins
Toilet paper, 1 roll 43 mins
Detergent, 1 kg 2 hrs
Diapers, box of 30 11 hrs, 30 mins
Shampoo, 10 oz 2 hrs, 25 mins
Elem. School uniform 57-86 hrs
Roundtrip bus fare 1-3 hrs
Cooking gas, 1 tank 20 hrs
Aspirin, bottle of 20 2 hrs, 25 mins
  (These figures are based on average prices in Tijuana for an
  assembly line worker earning 26 pesos a day ($3.57).)

Mexico is a cheaper place  to live than the United States, true, but not that much cheaper--not cheap enough to make this meager salary liveable.  Tijuana, in fact, is one of the most expensive cities in Mexico.  With rents averaging more than a maquiladora worker will earn in a month, most maquiladora workers live in shantytowns that lack basic services like water, sewage, or electricity.

So why do these factories  pay so little? Because they can…and that is what makes the situation very controversial.  These corporations are not breaking any laws.   Most are billion dollar companies, and chances are most could pay a living  wage and still greatly benefit by locating their factory in this area.   A living wage in Mexico is still much, much lower than the minimum wage in the industrialized nations from which these companies are based. And paying a living wage would ensure that ALL parties benefit from this system.

I think it is important,  when studying a phenomenon, to hear from the people who are actually living  it, so I am going to read an excerpt from an interview with a maquiladora  worker, and I will pass out copies of the entire interview at the end.

"My name is Maria, and I work in a maquiladora. I am a member of Regional Border Workers Support  Committee.  Organizing to demand a living wage is very important to me because I work as hard as I can, and yet I still can't make ends meet. I know these U.S. corporations are taking advantage of the low wages here, and we desperately need these jobs. But they should pay us enough that we can live and eat decently and send our children to school."
      
She continues on to discuss  the hardships of trying to exist on such meager wages.  And she also  raises a good point in her statement, and that is that these corporations—who  are mostly our corporations …the US corporations that we support  with our consumer spending and our silence—are providing jobs, and when criticisms are made against the system, people often say “These factories provide much needed jobs. If the factories weren't there, they wouldn't have a job at all.”  This is surely a statement that could be made about a great deal of foreign  investment in the developing world.  And, it can also be stated that  these factories “pay what market requires.”  We heard this quite a few times from the manager we met with at the maquiladora that we visited.  And these statements are true.  Again, maquiladoras do provide much needed jobs, and the factories are able to pay so little because there are people who are desperate and need the jobs.  But it has to make you wonder where a society should draw the line.  When is a company  taking advantage of lower wages in a country that is not as developed as their home country…and when is that company exploiting the desperation of those people.  Under the current system, these companies are making massive profits on near-slave wages.  Corporations exist to maximize their profits, but where is the line drawn and by whom.

In addition to very low wages, in order to ensure that this 'dream manufacturing environment' persists for these corporations, workers are also often prevented at all costs from forming unions and fighting for better wages and conditions.  And, in the absence of unions or adequate systems of regulations, many workplace violations are prevalent.  For example, women are often forced to take pregnancy tests, either by providing a urine sample or producing a sanitary napkin as proof that they are not pregnant.  Such actions totally violate Mexican, US and international laws.  What was startling to me was the number of US corporations that were engaging in practices that they would never dare to do in the United States.

So what are local and international activist doing to help improve this situation.  We met with six different groups and heard about the work that they are doing to improve working conditions, such as trying to form unions (or quasi unions), trying to inform workers of their rights (of which they are generally kept ignorant), and trying to press for a liveable wage.  After listening to all groups, it was clear that their efforts all really coalesce around one concept—"work but with dignity."
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Now, lest you think that we don't have to worry about that stuff here (”Good thing we don’t have sweatshops.”)  Well, California has the dubious distinction of being the sweatshop capital of the nation.  The presence of sweatshops in California, particularly Los Angeles, is partially because the garment industry is so large in California—the state’s second largest manufacturing industry, and the largest garment manufacturing area in the United States. On the Los Angeles trip, we visited the LA garment district where I took this photograph  just a few months ago.

When people today think of "sweatshops," it often conjures up images of the cramped, dangerous and filthy factories in the early 1900s that plagued US cities--full of recent immigrant workers & children toiling for long hours in dangerous conditions.   Yet what goes along with those images is the belief that ‘we are done with all that stuff.’ But…sweatshops are back, and probably never left totally. In fact, sweatshops in California have become a major problem in last few decades. In "the Alleys" of LA's garment district, if you go up the unmarked elevators, you see floor after floor of sweatshops like this one. 

The Department of Labor has acknowledged that sweatshops are a problem. They estimate that half of all registered garment manufacturers in California pay less than minimum wage, two-thirds do not pay overtime, and one-third operate with serious health and safety violations.  It is estimated that Southern California garment employers owe as much as $73 million in back wages to their garment workers.  So why does this problem persist?  "Aren’t we in the clear because we have a law?"

Part of the problem is that the United States Department of Labor only has 800 inspectors—eight hundred inspectors to inspect six million worksites of all kinds in the United  States.  But a larger part of the problem is that the very structure  of the garment industry encourages the creation of sweatshops.  Retailers  buy from manufacturers who generally contract out their work to factories  (contractors).  The competitive bidding by these factories for work drives contract prices down so low that they cannot pay minimum wages or overtime to their workers, and instead they have to ‘sweat’ the profits  out of their employees.  By demanding such low prices for garments, retailers are unquestionably complicit in the cycle (although they generally try to disassociate themselves from the contractors, claiming that they have no control over conditions at factories.) Thus, all levels of the garment industry contribute to the perpetuation of sweatshops, and therefore all levels must work (or be pushed) to make the necessary changes to end such exploitative practices.

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Again, we met with activists, such as this gentleman from UNITE, who are organizing and fighting for better conditions, and working to ensure that basic standards of workplace safety and compensation are met.   And remember, this is how things changed at the turn of the century.  People joined together and eventually formed a strike—what became known as The Great Revolt.  Eventually, through their efforts the Fair Labor Standards Act passed in 1930s.

In fact, university students have actually been some of the most vocal and effective proponents of fair labor practices in the garment industry in recent years.  The United Students Against Sweatshop has been tremendously effective in working to ensure that university gear—sweatshirts,  hats, jackets—are not made in sweatshops, in the United States or abroad.  The Cal State system and UC system have both received a tremendous amount  of pressure from students, and have made changes in their purchasing practices  because of it.

So clearly, this issue of exploitative labor practices can be found here as well.


Now, back to Mexico… The second issue that we looked at is one "contribution" that some maquiladoras  do unfortunately make to local communities, and that is pollution.  Unfortunately, many foreign maquiladoras do not comply with regulations for the safe disposal of hazardous wastes, which by US & Mexico law must be returned to the United States. By 1995 the border’s maquiladoras were generating nearly 60,000 tons of wastes per year. The US government tracks this waste that is, again, by law supposed to return to the US.  By 1996,  just under 8,000 tons were reported to the tracking system-- only 8,000 tons out of 60,000 tons that were generated. And unfortunately, this is no isolated incident. The World Bank, a friend of large corporations, did a study on the waste removal rate and found that half of the maquiladora firms in the Ciudad Juárez area weren’t even in the tracking database  to begin with. So this is a large problem, the brunt of which is born by the local people who live in the areas around the maquiladoras.
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On our trip, we visited one of the most deplorable examples of a United States-owned maquiladora—Metales y Sus Derividados (Metals and their Derivatives).  This plant was a battery recycling plant and lead smelter that was open for 22 years.  In that time period, the plant developed a long history of problems associated with their handling hazardous waste, until eventually it was shut down in 1994.  Today, the factory is abandoned, and the owner, a US citizen, has returned home and has refused to clean up any of the toxic waste that is spread throughout the area.
Environmental assessments have found more than 6,000 tons of toxic waste still in the surrounding area.  Substances like lead, sulphuric acid, and arsenic are not only in the soil of the area, but are also exposed to the sun, wind and rain. The concentration of chemicals left behind in the soil is so powerful, in fact, that it is disintegrating the cinder blocks of this containment wall that was rebuilt just a few years ago. And most unfortunate is that the plant is sited on a mesa above a neighborhood, so that the toxic wastes have seeped into the ground and are carried downhill  into the local water supply of this community, Colonia Chilpancingo, which,  until recently, was not informed of the dangers of this factory.  Today, many people from Chilpancingo are suffering from high rates of health problems such as asthma, skin and eye irritations, and birth defects.  Again we see that  “ALL parties are [NOT] benefiting from this system”,  as it is the local communities who are harmed by the pollutants left behind  in their neighborhoods.

This is just one maquiladora  of its kind to be closed for failing to comply with environmental codes.   And while surely some maquiladoras do comply with waste removal standards,  this recurring problem demonstrates a failure of policies implemented under  NAFTA to enforce environmental quality standards, and punish even the most  egregious violators. The environmental codes have been worked out,  one of which is that US corporations must pay for clean up and must bring  waste back to the United States.  The rules are there but enforcement  mechanisms either don't have the necessary teeth, or just aren't working.   And unfortunately some foreign corporations know this.

        
NOW AGAIN, lest you think this is THEIR problem and we don’t have to worry about that stuff here…  On the LA tour, we spent time looking at environmental problems in the LA area…specifically the siting of these environmental industries. There is a term some of you may have heard, and actually I am not sure I am in total agreement with it.  It is the notion of  "Environmental Racism"—the idea that environmental problems are often sited in ethnic communities…communities that are predominately African- American, Asian-American, or Latino.  A Sierra Club lawyer accompanied us on the tour, and explained that they have quite a few lawyers devoted to cases that they consider to be "environmental racism."  I tend to think the problem is more about the socioeconomics of an area than race, as poor communities tend to have little power or voice, regardless of their ethnicity.  However, I do agree with the notion that polluting industries are much more apt to be sited in areas where the residents do not have the political or economic might to fight against it.

What is interesting is that there is a very pervasive idea that pollution is equitably distributed. Notions like "we are all in this together" or "the circle of poison" are a popular and important part of the environmental movement, yet they can distract us a bit from realizing that there is a pattern of disproportionate exposure.  Yes, ecosystems are interconnected and because of that--we are all in this together.  But when you look at the siting of polluting industries, they do tend to be in poor areas.   To a certain extent, it’s the chicken and the egg scenario.  Is it that the plant is there and then the income declines as those who can afford to move out do so, or is it that plants go into areas where people are poor and don't have enough political and economic power to successfully fight against it.  I think it is probably both.
On the tour we visited with community leaders who are trying to fight against pollution  in their area.  One community in Santa Fe Springs is currently fighting  to stop the reopening of the old Powerine Oil Refinery, which was built in the 1930s and had long held the dubious distinction of being the dirtiest  plant in the state of California until it was eventually closed in 1995 because it was simply not possible to turn a profit with all the penalties it repeatedly received for environmental pollution.  However, in 1998 the plant was purchased by The Pat Roberson (of the 700 Club fame) Charitable Trust, and was allowed to reopen (under the new name CENCO) to the surprise of local residents and activists alike.  Even more surprising was the waiving of the required Clean Air Quality Review.  There is a great deal of concern about the reopening of this plant because the majority of the equipment is old and has been idle, calling into question its safety.  In fact, the safety issue is particularly crucial, as the refinery will be using hexavalent chronium!

Afterward, we met with residents of South Fulton Village, a senior housing complex that is located across the street.  The group of women who gathered  to meet with us told of how the city and the developers of the housing community promised that the (then-closed) plant would not reopen, and how they are very concerned  about the impacts of the pollution on the residents of the complex as well  as the children who attend an elementary school just a quarter mile from the plant.  This is a valid concern, as it is children and the elderly who are the most vulnerable to environmental pollution. I was impressed by this woman, who proclaimed “I am a fighter,” and stated that while she has lived her life, she is taking on this fight for the kids who live in the area and go to the school across the way.  These residents told of a long period of being ignored, until they were finally able to get some environmental activists to volunteer their time.

Often times when environmentalists  start talking about limiting production, people often proclaim that “it  has to be somewhere…After all, LA is the car capital of the world…Ya know, until we have an alternative energy source, etc…”  And that is true, but it really is not a matter of 'not having oil refineries and we all revert back to horse and buggy' or 'having refineries and drive cars but pollute the air'.  There are many things can be done to mitigate the environmental impacts of polluting industries, such as reconfiguring  exhaust stacks, using different chemicals, and using different processes.  And that is really a crucial part of the struggles against environmental racism, because most corporations are not going to voluntarily enact these mitigating measures because they are expensive.  So many people are saying that the lack of power in poor communities is why corporations choose to site polluting industries in those poor communities, where it is known that the locals do not have the where-with-all to fight against the plant altogether or to fight for the mitigating steps that are proven lessen the environmental impacts. It really is a tragic reality--one that must be changed--and it was really enlightening to look at the issue and see examples first-hand.



Again, back to Mexico...Another  issue that we looked at, and the last one that I will be covering today, is the current US immigration policy and our current tactics to curb illegal immigration . I bet very few Americans have seen the black steel fence running along parts of the U.S.-Mexico border.   It actually was one of the most ambitious public works projects in U.S. history, and definitely seems to give the illusion that the border is finally under control.  It was actually put up quite recently, with much of the material coming from what was left from the Gulf War. (In fact, the timing of its construction was particularly galling to many Mexicans, because these fences were erected in the very year that the United States and Mexico signed NAFTA. To Mexicans, it appeared that the United States wanted to have it both ways--opening its border to goods, yet closing it to people.)

The fences only cover about 60 miles of the border—a border that is over 2000-miles long-–and are mainly placed in the areas of highest crossing.  Thus, vast stretches of the border remain unprotected, including parched desert areas and high mountainous terrain where immigration authorities doubted migrants would try to cross because of the inherent physical dangers of the terrain. And that is actually the main philosophy behind the current border control program called “Operation Gatekeeper”--to force migrants into much more inhospitable and rugged places as a deterrent.  This unpatrolled area includes 6,000-foot mountain peaks, where there's a 50% chance of freezing temperatures six months out of the year, and vast expanses of desert, often with 110+ degree temperatures in the shade.

So, whereas six or seven years ago, when the canyons near San Diego would come alive at night as thousands of illegal immigrants raced through the underbrush to get to  California, today those canyons are quiet since the launch of Operation Gatekeeper.  Often the only  human presence is that of the occasional Border Patrol agent, surveying the night with an infrared scope. It is so calm, in fact, that Border Patrol agents routinely beg to be transferred to livelier parts of the border.

Operation Gatekeeper was kicked off when the Army Corps of Engineers came in and built roads so  that agents could get right next to the border and monitor illegal immigrants  before they attempted the crossing.  They also erected stadium-style  lighting and instituted sophisticated surveillance devices like night scopes,  helicopters, ground sensors, and video cameras. But the centerpiece of the strategy was doubling the number of Border Patrol agents and assigning them to sit at regular intervals in their stationary vehicles within sight of the border for hours to deter would-be crossers. And, of course, with all these additions, under this plan the INS budget zoomed.  Since the start of Operation Gatekeeper, the INS has spent nearly $6 billion on securing our southern border.  (The INS is actually now a larger agency than the FBI.) So again, the ideology  of Operation Gatekeeper is that this increased presence will “force migrants into much more inhospitable and rugged places.”

Did the strategy work?  Well, the number of apprehensions in San Diego plummeted—from 531,000 in 1993 to 182,000 in 1999. But the reality is that the nation's border is far from being "under control."  In fact, there are actually now more rather than fewer illegal immigrants crossing the border, and there are more illegal immigrants in the United States than ever before. As a result of the increased difficulty in crossing, crackdowns have had the perverse effect of inducing people to begin migrating  for fear that conditions at the border will get even worse, and then inducing  them to stay longer to avoid the hazards of crossing again.  The General  Accounting Office, which is Congress' investigative arm, confirms these trends. Migrants are still crossing, but are moving eastward from San Diego, and crossing in less defended portions of the border—those really dangerous  areas. To this the INS now admits that they underestimated the determination  of those seeking to cross the border.  In fact, the head of the INS stated “We expected geography to be our ally, but in fact people have been  far more willing to cross in places that are formidable." And she acknowledged that  “Pushing them is the most fundamental human motivation that exists, which is to eat and support your family and survive and have a future."

But this is more than a failed policy.   As I just stated, migrants are still crossing—but now it is in those really dangerous areas, and the numbers of those who die in crossing the border has soared from 23 deaths in 1994 to 201 deaths in 1999.  This chart compares the deaths that took place the year before Gatekeeper began, to the deaths that have happened so far this year. 

Deaths Under Operation Gatekeeper
1994 (prior to
Gatekeeper)
   1/1/00 -
10/2/00
Hypothermia/Heat Stroke
2
73
Drowning
9
31
Accident
11
16
Homicide
1
0
Total
23
120
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As you can see, most of  Gatekeeper’s victims died from exposure, either in the Tecate mountains  or from heat stroke and dehydration in the Imperial Desert.  In addition,  others have drowned in the All-American Canal, trying to avoid the worst of the desert. The following maps show the increasing incidence of death, as well as the eastward movement of migration, from the first map in 1995 to the second map of the deaths that have occurred so far this year.  As you can see, the deaths have soared and shifted east into the mountains and deserts.  And...the Border Patrol itself says that no one knows how many bodies lie undiscovered.
maps from www.stopgatekeeper.org

Now all of this is in violation of international human rights law.  The Interamerican Commission on Human Rights considers this policy to be a breach the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, and Amnesty International-U.S.A. has overwhelmingly passed a resolution condemning Gatekeeper. At present, the United Nations Human Rights Commission is conducting a study to determine whether it should issue a condemnation.

Now, this is not a question  of whether the US has a right to control the border. NO ONE is advocating just opening the borders for the free flow of people. Indeed, few would take issue with the sovereign right of the U.S. to police its borders.  Instead, critics of Operation Gatekeeper are simply imploring the US to police its borders in a manner which complies with international human rights obligations--essentially, to police the border in a manner that minimizes, not maximizes, the threat to life.  In fact, when this case was pending before the Interamerican Commission on Human Rights, the U.S. did acknowledge that there are limits on a governments right to control entry into its territory.

Really, most of these groups, as well as individuals who are opposed to this strategy, are simply calling for the United States to revert to the pre-Gatekeeper strategy, pointing  out that

1) it was no less effective overall than Gatekeeper
2) it was much cheaper
3) the loss of life was much less under the previous strategy

In effect, all that Operation Gatekeeper has achieved, at an enormous cost in lives and money, is to move the migrant foot traffic out of the public eye and give the appearance of a border under control. This has even been acknowledged by The San Diego Union-Tribune, which until recently was a knee-jerk defender Gatekeeper.  The Tribune now has called the program a “dismal failure,” saying that Gatekeeper has “merely shifted the problem elsewhere.”

In the hopes of preventing  hundreds more migrants from dying just to keep up the illusion that the border is under control, many have been protesting and demonstrating to bring attention to this problem. While in Mexico, I observed and participated in some of the protests, so I want to take the last few minutes to share some slides from some of the protests.  In spots all along the border wall, activists and those who have lost loved ones have been memorializing those who have died while crossing the border.  At the point where the wall reaches the ocean is one of these memorials.  On top of the listing of names, there is a tally of the lives that have been lost under Operation Gatekeeper. And a question is posed--"How many more?"   Reading the names, ages, and state of origin is a vivid reminder that these aren't statistics--these are individuals.  It was much the same experience as I felt at the Vietnam memorial in Washington  DC, when you are face to face with the names of those who have died.  Quite a few of those who died could not be identified, so the listing often reads "No Identificado."
In addition to this memorial  and protest, at points all along the wall, crosses have been put up, each  with a name of someone who has died since the start of Operation Gatekeeper.   Every death is a tragedy, but it was especially sad to see the young children  who have died (as the crosses bear not only the names but also the ages of those who died.)  As with the other memorial and protest, quite a few crosses simply said "No identificado."
On the weekend that we were there, a protest march was taking place and we were able to participate  in part of the 16 mile "desert walk" and then take part in the ceremony held to honor those who died.  As with the other protests, each individual  death was remembered, as participants took turns placing stickers bearing  the names of those who died on a large wooden cross.
In Mexicali, we helped an organization called the Border Art Workshop with  their memorial, which commemorated those who have died by placing  a water jug along the wall for each individual. Water jugs were chosen because many of the deaths are due to dehydration in the harsh desert environment.  Again, this and other protests really aim to reinforce the human component  of the US's current border control efforts.  The point is not to call  for an end to all border control measures, but to urge the US government to take the necessary steps to ensure that our policies are not intentionally  putting people 'in harms way.'
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In conclusion, I was just  reminded by someone before coming in here that it’s  a lot easier to criticize something that to promote something positive.  This is true.  But if there are problems, they need to be looked at critically. They need to be criticized and scrutinized since that is how you come  to the solution.   The point of my presentation today is not to say 'look at these poor Mexican  workers; their   wages are so low.' Or 'look at his poor community that has been polluted  by this US corporation.'  Instead, I want to promote the notion that  we need to look at these issues honestly and critically, because we need to develop effective   international strategies so we can   overcome these problems. And while I haven't provided any grand answers  to these problems today, I hope I have communicated to you what I think are  some real issues that we most certainly should devote our energies to resolve.    At least I know I will be.

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