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Saving undocumented migrants in the Arizona desert

NMD Camp.jpg
Steve Johnson
No More Deaths

As the renewed debate over immigration reform unfolds in Washington, thousands of undocumented immigrants still try to cross the border with Mexico. A humanitarian group in Arizona says many are at risk of dying from thirst, starvation, or attacks by criminals. Representatives of No Más Muertes/No More Deaths will talk about the issue in Kalamazoo Wednesday, February 13th.

No More Deaths spokeswoman Hannah Hafter says one of its missions is to help migrants cross the Sonoran Desert safely. She says it does that by leaving supplies of water and food, as well as blankets, along the trails used by migrants. No Más Muertes also has a camp in the desert that dispenses medical aid. Hafter says the group also has an office in Nogales on the Mexican side of the border that helps people who’ve been deported from the U.S. The group is sponsored by the Unitarian Universalist Church of Tucson.

Hafter says the group is only able to help a small number of migrants trying to enter the U.S. Although the number of undocumented immigrants crossing the southern border fell sharply after the economic recession in 2008, Hafter says those who are crossing are at greater risk. She says that’s because U.S. enforcement efforts have pushed them into even more remote areas of the desert.

Hafter says No Más Muertes tries to maintain a “civil” relationship with the U.S. Border Patrol even though she says some of its agents remove or destroy supplies left for migrants. Hafter says the group’s actions do not violate U.S. law.

Much of the debate on immigration reform on Capitol Hill focuses on a “path to citizenship” for undocumented immigrants who are already in the U.S. Hafter says No Más Muertes supports that but adds that other parts of the reform proposal would be counterproductive, including the use of military “drone” aircraft and adding even more Border Patrol Agents to monitor the Mexican border. Hafter says any reform should also address what she calls a “humanitarian crisis” on the border.

Members of No Más Muertes will speak Wednesday at 6 p.m. in Room 1220 in Western Michigan University’s Chemistry Building. The program is sponsored by the Kalamazoo Peace Center.