Lured By Jobs, Illegal Immigrants Risk Death at Border Crossings

By Mark Krikorian on April 25, 1999

Santa Barbara News-Press, April 25, 1999

A sudden snowstorm in remote mountains near California's border with Mexico recently claimed the lives of nine illegal aliens who were trying to avoid stepped-up border controls in more built-up areas.

Nor was this a one-time tragedy - the Mexican embassy estimates that an average of one illegal alien a day died crossing the border last year. At the same time, dozens of Cubans and Haitians have drowned recently trying to sneak into Florida.

Though no one is pleased by these deaths, Americans secretly like the idea that foreigners are willing to take such risks to get in to our country. At a time when the ties that bind us as a people are increasingly frayed and patriotism is widely derided, we take consolation in the fact that outsiders still want to come here. Nevertheless, as a civilized people we are obliged to ask ourselves who is responsible for these tragedies. The answer may surprise you. The conventional answers are inadequate: It's true that the illegals themselves are partly responsible, as are their smugglers and the dysfunctional societies they are fleeing.

Interestingly, the standard culprit in polite opinion - the Border Patrol - is not only blameless, but spends much of its time rescuing helpless illegals, saving thousands of lives.

When we look deeper, however, the chief cause of border deaths becomes clear - a toxic combination of easy access to jobs (without which fewer foreigners would try to sneak in in the first place) and increased difficulty in crossing the border, making the trip more perilous. It's also clear who created this situation - Congress.

The job magnet is strong because few businesses are ever punished for hiring illegals, and Congress' responsibility here is hard to miss. It took until 1986 for Congress to prohibit the employment of illegals, and 10 more years passed before it instructed the INS to begin experimenting with computer systems to verify a worker's legal status. There is still no commitment to require the deployment of such verification systems.

Jobs are also easy for illegals to come by because Congress isn't serious about enforcement even of those laws which it has already passed. It refuses to fund serious crackdowns on businesses known to hire illegals; despite requests for more help, the INS still has only the equivalent of 300 full-time worksite inspectors; and the Labor Department recently announced it would be reducing the scope of its cooperation with the INS.

And, most notoriously, lawmakers actually interfere with immigration enforcement at the behest of employers.

During last year's Vidalia onion harvest in Georgia, for instance, most workers fled after INS raids. Within days, both Georgia senators and three representatives wrote to Attorney General Janet Reno fiercely criticizing the INS for "lack of regard for farmers."

In response to this and other none-too-subtle messages from Congress, the INS recently announced an end to worksite enforcement.

At the same time that lawmakers from both parties have shown themselves unwilling to turn off the magnet of jobs, they have been demanding, and funding, much stricter border control.

This new (and long-overdue) improvement in the Border Patrol's resources has made it much harder for illegal aliens to cross where they used to, redirecting the flow to more remote and dangerous areas.

This unlikely combination of tighter borders and lax interior enforcement has created a bizarre anomaly: Congress is inviting illegal aliens but making it harder to get in.

Thus, as the crossing becomes riskier, more illegals die - Congress is complicit in their deaths.

The best example of this pro-immigration but anti-immigrant approach is Sen. Spencer Abraham, R-Mich., chairman of the Senate immigration subcommittee. While piously declaring his opposition to illegal immigration and support for border controls, he has labored mightily to ensure that illegal aliens can continue to find jobs.

There are two morally consistent choices in immigration enforcement. One is to continue to ignore worksite enforcement, but open the borders. This would bring our interior and border strategies in line and stop forcing aliens to cross in remote and deadly areas. It would also mean the end of the American republic.

The other option is to get serious about upholding the law everywhere in our country, combining strong border controls with muscular interior enforcement.

The United States would then send a consistent message to prospective illegal aliens that they aren't supposed to be here and will be sent back with when found.

No mixed-messages, no dishonesty. And fewer dead bodies on the border.