Report Exposes the Strategy and Practice of the U.S. Border Patrol That Has “Disappeared” Thousands of Immigrants

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“There is a crisis of disappearance in the Southwest borderlands.” With this introduction, a recent joint report by two humanitarian groups in Arizona—No More Deaths and La Coalición de Derechos Humanos—examines the connection between the policing strategy and practice of the U.S. Border Patrol today and what they describe as “the disappearance of tens of thousands of migrants and refugees in the expansive wilderness north of the US-Mexico border.” Their chilling report—“Disappeared: How the U.S. Border Enforcement Agencies are Fueling a Missing Persons Crisis”—rips through the lying, chauvinist propaganda that sanctifies the cold-blooded crimes of the U.S. Border Patrol, and treats the lives of immigrant border crossers as worth nothing.

Prevention Through Deterrence

The introduction to the report describes the “Prevention Through Deterrence” strategy first instituted along the U.S. border in 1994 when Bill Clinton was president. Until that time, deaths at the border were relatively low, usually caused by border crossers being hit by cars. But in the past two decades the figures have steadily increased, with the Arizona Desert and Upland and the South Texas Brush littered with the bodies and skeletal remains of human beings whose only “crime” was crossing the border to escape the poverty and violence that has shown is caused by U.S. imperialist exploitation and domination of Mexico and the countries of Central America (for example, see here). In the border area near Tucson, the number of deaths per 10,000 apprehensions increased in the eight years ending in 2015 by 500%. On top of that, in 2015 alone La Coalición opened over 1,200 cases of people who were unaccounted for after trying to cross the U.S.-Mexico border.

The focus of this report are the thousands and thousands more who have been “disappeared” as a result of the deliberate practices of the U.S. Border Patrol, most of whose lives, and deaths, are not counted. This is what “deterrence” looks like to those who run the country.

Why are these areas in particular filled to overflowing with the corpses of border crossers? Because deterrence is accomplished by making crossing the border as difficult and as dangerous as possible, with the piled-up bodies, and the grief of the thousands of families whose loved ones are never found, intended to send the message “Don’t even try to cross ‘our’ border.” The tens of millions of dollars poured into the technology of border enforcement, the extension of the border walls, and the build up of the number of Border Patrol agents have “funneled” border crossers into the most remote, treacherous sectors of the entire Southwest border. The Sonoran Desert, with its brutal temperature shifts between day and night, can kill through dehydration in the 100-plus temperatures in daytime, while 25 degree temperatures at night cause death by hypothermia. It can now take immigrants four days to a week, and more—to get to safety, meaning those who do survive will have been without water for days and days. The main cause of death has now become exposure to the elements.

The report sums up: Extreme heat and bitter cold, scarce and polluted water sources, treacherous topography, and near-total isolation from possible rescue are used as weapons of border enforcement.”  Since the 1990s the estimate of the numbers killed crossing the border is 8,600. In addition, because of this terrain, within weeks someone can be reduced to bone fragments, or completely disappear. “The region has been transformed into a vast graveyard of the missing.”

Because the desperate conditions in the countries immigrants are fleeing continue to drive immigrants to risk the increasing dangers of escape to the north, “deterrence” is torturing, killing, and disappearing more border crossers than ever. The report concludes, “If the Border Patrol’s goal of prevention is an illusion, then the means of contemporary border policy amounts to a campaign of state violence against migrating peoples.”

How the Border Patrol “Routinely” Causes Death and Disappearance

With this introduction, the report identifies three different ways the routine actions of the U.S. Border Patrol are responsible for the disappearance and death of thousands of immigrants. Two of the three parts have so far been released, beginning with “Deadly Apprehension Methods: The Consequences of Chase & Scatter in the Wilderness.”


With border crossers driven into the most remote, dangerous terrain of the Southwestern border, Border Patrol agents chase them using helicopters, SUVs, all-terrain vehicles, horses, and dogs along with agents on foot, to corral them by forcing them into chokepoints. Being chased long distances through cacti, trees, shrubs, cliffs, canyons and barbed wire fences, injuries are common, and many die and disappear during the chase: falling off cliffs, drowning in the Rio Grande and California’s American Canal, and dying of dehydration and exhaustion. At night the immigrants can see nothing, while the Border Patrol has night-vision equipment. As one immigrant described:

“We run as if we were blind, as if we had a cloth over our eyes. Border Patrol can see everything though, and they know where the fences and the cliffs are. They will chase you towards them.”

And then there is injury and death due to Border Patrol violence, including beatings, dog attacks, tasers, assault with vehicles, and the use of deadly force. Nearly every chase ends with this brutality. And as the report points out, their well-known record of abuse, which includes beatings, rapes, and shootings, makes those who encounter agents more likely to flee into the wilderness, not just to avoid being caught, but to escape the violence of their pursuers.


Nearly all border crossers travel in groups, and when they are chased they scatter in all directions – “like quail” according to one agent. Those not captured often become separated from their companions, their guides, and their personal belongings, including their water bottles. This is especially true at night. Often left behind alone in the backcountry are the very young, the sick, the very old, and the injured. This scattering by the Border Patrol causes people to become disoriented, lost, and empty-handed, with many dying and disappearing due to prolonged exposure to the elements. Since 1999, the Pima County medical examiner’s office in Arizona has handled over 2,800 sets of remains of people who were attempting to cross their sector of the U.S.–Mexico border. The authors call driving people into rivers, over cliffs, or deep into the desert to die and disappear state-sanctioned disappearance.

Interference with Humanitarian Aid

Part 2 of the report, just released January 17, 2018, identifies another way in which the deliberate actions of the Border Patrol are directly causing death and disappearance: “Interference with Humanitarian Aid: Death and Disappearance on the US-Mexico Border.”*

Think about the following, and ask yourself what kind of system creates monsters capable of this: “In the desert of the Arizona–Mexico borderlands, where thousands of people die of dehydration and heat-related illness, Border Patrol agents are destroying gallons of water intended for border crossers.” La Coalición de Derechos Humanos, in a three-year study ending in 2015, found water gallons vandalized 415 times, an average of more than twice a week. Witnessed by border crossers, photographed, and watched on YouTube by over 350,000 people, Border Patrol agents systematically stab, stomp, kick, drain and confiscate the bottles of water that humanitarian aid volunteers leave along known migrant routes in the Arizona desert—intentionally condemning border crossers to suffering, death, and disappearance.

No More Deaths, studying the period between from 2012 to 2015, found at least 3,586 gallon jugs of water destroyed in a desert corridor near Arivaca, Arizona. If this is not enough, Border Patrol agents in the Arizona borderlands routinely intimidate, harass, and surveil the humanitarian-aid volunteers to interfere with their efforts to save the lives of border crossers.

“The known disappearance of thousands of people in the remote wilderness of the US–Mexico border zone marks one of the great historical crimes of our day.” (see article from The Guardian)

Everyone Must Stand Up Against the Intolerable Crimes on the Border

The calculated, cold-blooded violence against the men, women, and children risking everything to cross the U.S.-Mexico border comes from the working of a system—the system of capitalist-imperialism. As Bob Avakian points out:

“Now I can hear these reactionary fools saying, ‘Well Bob, answer me this. If this country is so terrible, why to people come here from all around the world? Why are so many people trying to get in, not get out?’…Why? I’ll tell you why. Because you have fucked up the rest of the world even worse than what you have done in this country. You have made it impossible for many people to live in their own countries as part of gaining your riches and power.” (BAsics 1:14)

And now the Trump/Pence regime is taking this to a whole new horrific level and unleashing far greater terror on the border. Using their fascist propaganda machine, they are branding immigrant people as less than human, in a genocidal way – calling them “animals, rapists, gangsters, drug dealers and violent criminals” threatening the “American way of life” and America’s “sacred” borders.

Everyone in this country, especially those who are not immigrants, must look squarely at these unspeakable crimes being committed at the border, take a stand, and act on it—in the interests of humanity. What is happening on the Southwest border—and to immigrants overall—is intolerable, and it cannot be tolerated one day more.

Revolution newspaper/, the voice of the Revolutionary Communist Party, provides the foundation, guideline, and organizational scaffolding for the whole process of carrying out our strategy for revolution. Through publishing works of Bob Avakian, and through many different articles, interviews, letters, graphics, and other features, Revolution enables people to really understand, and act to radically change, the world.

Originally published at


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