UN Declares Southwest Border ‘World’s Deadliest Migration Land Route’

But its own prejudices and motivations get in the way of offering detention as a solution

By Andrew R. Arthur on September 19, 2023

On September 12, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) at the United Nations reported — from Geneva, Berlin, and “San Jose” (likely Costa Rica’s capital, but clarity would have helped) — that the U.S. Southwest border is the “world’s deadliest land migration route”. That’s a dubious distinction, but hardly a surprise to anyone tracking the disaster unfolding there since Joe Biden took office and decided to simply ignore Congress’ migrant detention mandates. The problem is that IOM’s own prejudices and motivations prevent it from offering the only real solution that would deter aliens from migrating here illegally, and that is enforcing those mandates.

For those unfamiliar with IOM, it was founded in 1951 to serve as “the leading intergovernmental organization in the field of migration”, with the UN-related organization “committed to the principle that humane and orderly migration benefits migrants and society”.

The Southwest Border. Perhaps it could be argued that the migrants who make it safely to the Southwest border benefit from their migration here, but as I’ve long been arguing — and contrary to ongoing White House contentions — there is little going on in the process that is “orderly” (except to the extent that it is controlled by the cartels on the other side of the border), and nothing humane.

Consider the following, from CBP’s own statistics: In FY 2019, Border Patrol agents at the Southwest border performed just over 4,900 searches and rescues. That figure more than doubled to 12,800-plus in FY 2021 and has nearly doubled again to more than 28,500 in just the first 10 months of FY 2023.

CBP statistics also reveal that 300 migrants were discovered dead by U.S. authorities at the Southwest border in FY 2019, a figure that dropped to 254 in FY 2020 before more than doubling to 584 in FY 2021 — the last reporting year.

The Wall Street Journal reported in March that 890 bodies were discovered at the Southwest border by U.S. authorities in FY 2022, while “Hundreds more were reported missing.” If you have ever been to the broad and rugged expanses of the border, you’ll likely conclude that these figures are just the tip of the iceberg, and that hundreds — perhaps thousands — of other corpses lie there undiscovered.

“World’s Deadliest Migration Land Route”. Which brings me to the IOM release, captioned “US-Mexico Border World’s Deadliest Migration Land Route”.

The organization offers a lower total for deaths and disappearances at the Southwest border in 2022 (logically the calendar year, as there was no modifier), of 686, but nonetheless notes that: “The figure represents nearly half of the 1,457 migrant deaths and disappearances recorded throughout the Americas in 2022, the deadliest year on record since IOM’s Missing Migrants Project (MMP) began in 2014.”

Perhaps the difference between IOM’s numbers and the Journal’s are explained by its caveat that “the 2022 figure is likely higher than the available information suggests, due to missing official data, including information from Texas border county coroner's offices and the Mexican search and rescue agency.”

In the executive summary for the underlying report, IOM contends it “was unable to access some official data that was recorded in the previous year, specifically data from several Texas border county coroner’s offices”, but that was likely for a lack of trying (those offices are all far removed from Geneva, Berlin, or San Jose). When I’ve gone there, the locals have been plenty eager to share their data on migrant deaths.

That said, whether it’s 300 feet or 30 miles from the border, the illegal trek is still perilous, a point underscored by both the Journal and IOM. Consider the following from the Journal piece:

First responders in Eagle Pass have reported finding as many as 30 bodies a month in the river since March 2022, according to a federal government filing. “It’s like a graveyard,” said Maverick County Sheriff Tom Schmerber, who grew up in the area. “I’ve been working on the border for almost four decades and never saw tragedies of this magnitude.”

IOM didn’t even reference “the river” (in the case of Maverick County, Texas, the Rio Grande), but instead focused mainly on “the hazardous crossing of the Sonoran and Chihuahuan Deserts”.

The Chihuahuan Desert covers 250,000 square miles, 90 percent of it in Mexico, and extends from just south of Albuquerque to fewer than 200 hundred miles north of Mexico City, and from west Texas to the Bootheel of New Mexico on this side of the line. The Sonoran Desert picks up well west, covering southwestern Arizona and southeastern California, and extending through the Mexican states of Baja California and Sonora.

There’s a lot of undeveloped wilderness in each, and if you want an idea of how bad things are there now, IOM reports that the 307 deaths there in 2022 were “far more than other desert regions where irregular migration is prevalent”, including the Sahara, where just 212 deaths were reported last year.

IOM’s scope is not limited to the immediate U.S.-Mexico international boundary, as it also reports an “increase in deaths on migration routes in the Caribbean, with 350 documented in 2022 compared to 245 in 2021 and fewer than 170 recorded in all prior years”, and “141 documented migrant deaths in 2022” in the Darien Gap, which connects Colombia and Panama.

IOM all but admits that the figure from the Darien Gap is a wild underreport, given that it also explains:

Surveys of people who made the crossing conducted by IOM’s Displacement Tracking Matrix revealed that 1 in 25 respondents reported someone they were traveling with had gone missing. While these surveys were not representative, they are of grave concern considering that 250,000 people arrived in Panama via the Darien in 2022, and nearly 340,000 people have made the journey in 2023.

Do the math and you will see that those surveys suggest that anywhere between 10,000 and more than 13,000 migrant deaths may have gone unreported there.

IOM’s “Root Causes” Non-Solutions. Nearly everybody (including and especially me) is interested in mitigating if not eliminating migrant deaths, but IOM doesn’t offer any real solutions, and the ones it does propose will likely make the problem worse.

It asserts:

These numbers reflect the fatal consequences of the lack of safe and regular mobility options. IOM works with governments and stakeholders in the Americas to develop regular, safe and dignified pathways for migrants. Addressing the root causes of irregular migration, enhancing humanitarian assistance, and providing better protection for vulnerable groups are essential steps in safeguarding the lives of migrants seeking a safer future.

If much of that sounds familiar, it’s right out of the administration’s talking points, and in many instances, the words used are virtually identical.

IOM appears to operate under the same misapprehension as the Biden administration when it comes to the population of migrants who would follow “regular, safe and dignified pathways” to the United States, if only such pathways existed. That delusion is that there is a discrete cohort of such aliens, and that they will show up at the Southwest border regardless of whether there are “regular, safe and dignified pathways” or not.

Nothing suggests that the would-be illegal migrant population is discrete at all, and for what it’s worth, many if not nearly all of the 2.3 million-plus migrants whom the Biden administration has already released into the United States already are not so much “seeking a safer future” as they are coming to boost their wages.

For proof, consider the following, from the March 8 opinion of U.S. district court Judge T. Kent Wetherell II in Florida v. U.S.:

There were undoubtedly geopolitical and other factors that contributed to the surge of aliens at the Southwest Border, but [the administration’s] position that the crisis at the border is not largely of their own making because of their more lenient detention policies is divorced from reality and belied by the evidence. Indeed, the more persuasive evidence establishes that Defendants effectively incentivized what they call “irregular migration” that has been ongoing since early 2021 by establishing policies and practices that all-but-guaranteed that the vast majority of aliens arriving at the Southwest Border who were not excluded under the Title 42 Order would not be detained and would instead be quickly released into the country where they would be allowed to stay (often for five years or more) while their asylum claims were processed or their removal proceedings ran their course — assuming, of course, that the aliens do not simply abscond before even being placed in removal proceedings, as many thousands have done. [Emphasis added.]

In other words, the reason why so many migrants have risked their lives and safety to come to the Southwest border illegally since President Biden took office is because they know the odds are good that they will be allowed to stay, regardless of what the law says.

There are four reasons why the law in question, the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), should be enforced at the Southwest border. First, the INA is Congress’s playbook for how the border is supposed to be enforced, and when it comes to alien entries there, Congress calls the shots (as the Supreme Court has held, repeatedly).

Second, the administration’s refusal to comply with the detention mandates in the INA and instead to release 2.3 million illegal migrants into the United States is breeding lawlessness at the border while at the same time crushing municipal budgets.

Third, as my colleague Todd Bensman recently explained in congressional testimony, the administration’s catch-and-rapid-release schemes are a huge and unconscionable vulnerability for our national security, particularly with respect to aliens who pose terrorist threats.

Fourth, the Biden administration is creating what is described in tort law as an “attractive nuisance”, that is, something that lures others — usually children but not exclusively — to your property at their peril.

It’s a point that my colleague Mark Krikorian has made several times in the past, particularly in September 2021 when he explained:

No matter how effective our immigration controls, some people will still risk life and limb (and children) in places like the Darien Gap in an attempt to immigrate illegally — but nothing like the numbers we’re seeing now, lured by Joe Biden’s weakness.

UN’s IOM has done an admirable service by highlighting the dangers of illegal migration to and at the Southwest border. Still, its own prejudices and motivations get the better of IOM’s analysis as it elides the most important factor drawing migrants here at the risk of their lives: the Biden administration’s illegal release policies. Just ask Judge Wetherell.