By Hannah Hafter/No More Deaths
TUCSON, ARIZONA (June 12, 2011) - “PLEASE SAVE US. We, as in my fellow inmates, find ourselves in the Torrance County Detention Facility and we are scared for our lives.”
This was the first line of one of the four letters, received by No More Deaths on Friday, June 10, signed by a total of 21 people sentenced to detention in New Mexico for crossing the U.S./Mexico border through the Arizona desert, undocumented.
All the letters express extreme fear of being kidnapped or murdered if they are deported through the border states of Chihuahua, Coahuila, and Tamaulipas (on the other side of the border from New Mexico and Texas).
In these states, organized crime now has more power than the local government and migrants are regularly targeted upon arrival for extortion, violence, and forced conscription under threat of death.
Over 34,500 people have been killed over the last four years in drug cartel and gang related violence, with over half the killings in 2010 taking place in Chihuahua, Sinaloa and Tamaulipas.
No More Deaths is launching a campaign in response to these calls for support, and demands an end to all deportations through these eastern border states because of the imminent safety risks to deportees.
Both ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) and the Border Patrol are currently sending deportees through these ports. At the same time, the border ports of Agua Prieta and Naco, Sonora, Mexico, have not been used for repatriation in over 8 months, even though they are known to be significantly safer for deportees.
Human rights advocates throughout the country began calling and sending faxes to the offices of Janet Napolitano, Secretary of Homeland Security, and John Morton, director of ICE, to call for an immediate end to deportations through the Mexican border states of Chihuahua, Coahuila, and Tamaulipas.
The letter’s author continues with a story: “[One of the inmates here was last deported through Texas and he was] kidnapped and held hostage along with other deportees and was always at gunpoint. Some didn’t have family or had no money to pay the ransom so this group killed them and the ones that paid escaped death but not a beating. On the other side of the border of Texas is where this takes place every day.”
With the United States deporting upwards of 1,000 people each day to Mexico, a unique and horrifying situation of exploitation has emerged: cartels feed off the constant flow of migrants, using corrupt police and government agencies intended to assist migrants to funnel recent deportees directly into their hands.
According to another letter, “When one crosses the border the municipal police is just waiting and watching for deportees. They pull you over with the excuse that they are going to help you ... this is a lie and part of the scam. These police work for the [cartels]. They take you to an abandoned alley or house [where] at gunpoint your eyes are bandaged and your feet and hands are tied. And so begins the nightmare.”
Migrants given prison sentences for crossing the border are also routinely separated from their belongings, including identification, all their money, and lists of phone numbers of family members. The lack of resources, proof of identity, and ability to contact support highly intensifies existing dangers.
According to Hannah Hafter, No More Deaths volunteer from Tucson, AZ, “No border town is completely safe, and all deportations are separating families and ripping apart communities.
The U.S. government still has a responsibility to protect people from imminent violence. They are not only endangering lives – they are also financing the drug trade by handing them kidnapping victims.
Janet Napolitano and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security should intervene to ensure the safety of the 21 detainees who wrote us from the Torrance County Detention Facility, put an immediate end to all deportations through the states of Chihuahua, Coahuila, and Tamaulipas, and ensure that all deportees receive their belongings including identification and money.”
The inmates writing from Torrance County Detention Facility in New Mexico have release dates between June 15 and June 17. They request to be sent through the border port in the state of Sonora as an alternative. The last letter, signed by all 21 detainees, reads, “We are not delinquents. We are working people, we have families waiting for us in Mexico, and we fear for our lives. For your attention and understanding, we thank you, and God bless you and us.”
No More Deaths is an all-volunteer organization providing direct humanitarian aid to migrants in southern Arizona and northern Sonora. For more on their work visit www.nomoredeaths.org