Walking along the Mexican side of the U.S. border, it is hard to ignore the thousands of wooden crosses placed there to memorialize those who have died trying to leave the country. In October of 1994, the United States employed a new initiative called Operation Gatekeeper that drastically increased the power and size of border security in the San Diego/Tijuana area.
Under the initiative, walls were advanced, fortified and the number of border agents was increased by more than 140 percent from less than 1,000 in 1994 to nearly 2,500 just four years later according to the U.S. Department of Justice. These changes were made along the remainder of developed regions of the border, which made regular crossing by Mexican migrants to find employment in America nearly impossible. Many blame this increased security for killing thousands of Mexicans.
Mexicans will not stop crossing, but because the areas near legal ports of entry like San Diego have become increasingly fortified, migrants are pushed east of the Pacific into the deserts and mountains, where there are no walls because of these physical boundaries. That is now where migrants go to cross and that is where many migrants eventually die. There have been well over 3,000 recorded deaths of border crossers since late 1994, and that number has continued to rise, according to Casa del Migrante.
Further complicating the situation are the motives that many Mexicans have in attempting to illegally cross, like feeding their families.
To understand the unrest surrounding the U.S./Mexican border, we must first recognize the thinking behind imposing Operation Gatekeeper. The belief is that Mexico, a country with less economic stability than its northern neighbor, holds a population that would immediately flood the United States if given the opportunity. This would present not only security but fiscal problems. Agree with this idea or not, it is reason enough to recognize the impossibility of completely open borders.
Changing current legal standards to allow more Mexican visitors into our country could drastically improve this increasingly volatile situation. In order to get even temporary documents to enter the U.S. legally, Mexicans must prove they have sufficient reason to return to Mexico, including permanent residence and financial stability: two credentials most Mexicans simply don’t have.
Temporary work visas allowing Mexicans to enter the United States are the only solution. Perhaps some will not return, but reducing the amount spent on patrolling the border and instead using those funds to find illegal immigrants in the United States will surely decrease needless deaths.
Truly much of the blame should be placed on a Mexican government, which has failed its people in many ways.
With so many ways we can help, something must be done. Many recognize that Mexicans crossing the border is inevitable and are therefore willing to help immigrants combat what some consider human rights violations.
The Border Angels, a nonprofit group, sets up water stations for migrants crossing the border. The founder of the Border Angels, Enrique Morones, contends that crossing the border has become a fundamental part of Mexican culture, and so these changes by the United States are extraordinarily cruel.
Without the labor regulations we take for granted, even the safest, highest paying jobs located in Mexico make living all but impossible. I had the opportunity to speak with Chris North, co-owner of Aerodesign, one of many American businesses based on the Mexican side of the border region. Sitting in what many consider one of the region’s best run and most employee-friendly companies, North commented that the average hourly salary of an Aerodesign starting employee was $2.70 U.S. Just a few miles away, salaries are often more than double that.
Drastic changes must be implemented. Offering more open, legal methods for Mexicans to work in the United States, like temporary work visas that are easier to receive, would see the United States spending less on defending the border and would also ensure far less casualties. Certainly the answer involves the United States putting pressure on the Mexican government to improve the country’s financial situation as well.
The U.S. government cannot continue its practices any longer. Operation Gatekeeper will not keep out Mexicans fighting for survival, but it will kill Mexicans trying to feed their families.
Christopher George Wink can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.