San Diego, CA: On October 1, 1994, the federal government implemented Operation Gatekeeper along the California border with Mexico, as part of a larger border enforcement strategy. Gatekeeper had the intention of pushing the migrant flow away from urban areas and into less visible, but inhospitable and harsh terrain.
Today, on its 20th anniversary, the San Diego Immigrant Rights Consortium, a coalition of more than twenty San Diego-based organizations working to support immigrant rights in the County, calls on the federal government to shift away from failed enforcement strategies that exacerbate border deaths and instead prioritize its resources for life-saving measures that will prevent the loss of life along the borderlands.
Migrants attempting to enter the United States continue to make treacherous journeys crossing through mountainous and desert landscapes, where they succumb to extreme temperatures in great numbers.
Since Gatekeeper’s implementation in 1994, border deaths have increased substantially despite a drop in unauthorized border crossings. It is estimated that 6,627 migrants have perished on the US side of the US-Mexico border, and the remains of another 1,000 migrants are unidentified, buried in pauper’s graves or waiting to be identified in overflow refrigerated rooms.
Border enforcement measures attempting to control the the flow of migrants has been costly, both in human lives and in budgetary expenses. According to the Migration Policy Institute, well over $186 billion dollars in the past 26 years has been spent on immigration enforcement.
In spite of this, Congress and the President have failed to act on any meaningful immigration policy reform that could alleviate the lives of millions. Deportations are at record levels during President Obama’s terms, and this means that many who have died in the desert are attempting to return to their families, causing irreparable separation and harm to entire communities.
The San Diego Immigrant Rights Consortium has advocated for the placement of rescue beacons along the “corridors of death” in Arizona and elsewhere along the US-Mexico border as a life-saving measure to mitigate the needless loss of life.
The San Diego Immigrant Rights Consortium has also advocated for policies and initiatives that prioritize human rights and revitalize border communities, instead of the overwhelming emphasis on militarization that burdens the quality-of-life for border communities.
Pedro Rios, director of the American Friends Service Committee’s US-Mexico Border Program in San Diego, states:
“Operation Gatekeeper has created a human rights disaster along the border and our policymakers are silent about it. It is a shameful legacy that represents a failure in policymaking when militarization is prioritized over human needs. Immediate life-saving measures, such as rescue beacons, and long-term solutions, such as reforming our nation’s immigration policies, need to be made in order to avoid further tragedy along the US-Mexico borderlands.”
Rios is also an Advisory Board member of the San Diego Immigrant Rights Consortium. For twenty years the American Friends Service Committee has spoken out against the tragic consequences that Gatekeeper has had along the US-Mexico border.
Christian Ramirez, director of the Southern Border Communities Coalition, states:
“Operation Gatekeeper signifies two decades of ill-conceived and failed and wasteful border enforcement policies that paved the way for the current out-of-control policies that have diminished the quality-of-life for an entire generation of border residents. Without doubt the real tragedy lies on our government’s willingness to purposely divert at least 7,000 men, women and children to their deaths. The border death toll must weigh heavily on our consciousness as a society. In order to preserve the most basic values of a democratic society, federal policy makers have the moral and political obligation to reverse course and end the shameful practice of using military might to address social and economic issues.”
Vicente Rodriguez, representative of the search and rescue group Aguilas del Desierto, shared this about the 20th anniversary of Gatekeeper:
“After 20 years, the results of Operation Gatekeeper are in. There are many people lamenting the loss of their brothers, sisters, widows and children, those who perished crossing the deserts to make a better life for their families. Those who sponsored and implemented Operation Gatekeeper, which led to over 7,000 migrant deaths in the United States, need to be condemned and held accountable.”
Karen Plascencia, representative of the Human Rights Council of Oceanside, and Advisory Board member for the San Diego Immigrant Rights Consortium, commented the following:
“In 1994 Operation Gatekeeper aggravated the dangers of crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. This inhumane initiative has dramatically increased the number of deaths at the border. The damages and burdens brought on by Operation Gatekeeper on migrant communities thus far cannot be repaired; but we continue to advocate, fight and hope for change and policies which would respect the rights of migrant workers.”