By John Heid
The Biblical terrain of Advent is the desert. It's pristine austerity beckons reflection. The prophetic cries, spoken of by Isaiah, were ones of hope against all odds. These cries echo today in the voices of our sisters and brothers in the Sonoran desert in their anguish and radical hope.
On December 7th, in the somber shadow of the U.S.-Mexico border wall in Nogales, AZ, members of La Coalición de Derechos Humanos and No More Deaths presented their latest abuse document. “Deadly Apprehension Methods, The Consequences Of Chase And Scatter In The Wilderness.”
A US Border Patrol agent stands atop a dune along the US-Mexico border last month near Felicity, California. Photograph: John Moore/Getty Images. Published by The Guardian.
This report carefully details the consequences of the chase and scatter operations carried out by U.S. Border Patrol agents under the 1994 enforcement doctrine “Prevention Through Deterrence.” This policy has intentionally funneled people into harsh, isolated regions of the Southwest borderlands. Since the policy's inception, tens of thousands of people have gone missing in the vast Sonoran desert. According to the report 1,200 people have disappeared in the last year.
In addition to the disappearances, the chase and scatter tactics have resulted in a high incidence of injuries to people crossing the desert. The U.S. Border Patrol agents use helicopters, all-terrain vehicles, horses, and dogs in these operations. People frequently become separated, disoriented, injured, and lost as a result. Many of those apprehended have been subjected to beatings, teasing, and dog attacks.
The data for this report comes from over 500 cases collected by the Coalición de Derechos Humanos' Missing Migrant Hot Line in 2015 and 58 interviews with people who have attempted to cross the desert in the past five years.
The report calls for the abolition of the strategy of Prevention Through Deterrence and makes a plea for “the preservation of human life, human rights, and human dignity as the cornerstone and guiding principle of all Department of Homeland Security operations.”
During this Advent season, may we attune our ears to both the cries of the prophets and the oppressed as we seek that day when we “will not harm or destroy on all my holy mountain...” (Isaiah 11:9)