Operation Gatekeeper, 15 Years Later

Border crossing deaths: human rights violations?

The 15th anniversary of "Operation Gatekeeper" is being observed with outrage by humanitarian activists on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border.

They estimate that as many as 5,600 people have died while crossing the border through rugged mountain and desert areas of California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas since the operation was launched Oct. 1, 1994.

"If there was any other policy that the federal government adopted that systematically killed more than 500 people every year ... those policies would be changed quickly," said filmmaker John Carlos Frey, whose documentary "The 800 Mile Wall" is being released in conjunction with the anniversary.

Frey's remarks came at a Wednesday news conference held by the American Civil Liberties Union's San Diego & Imperial Counties chapter.

A movie 'trailer' and brief clips from the film -- which includes graphic footage of  bones and corpses of border crossing death victims -- were screened for reporters and Mexican families who have relatives that recently became part of the body count.

"If there were 500 Canadians that lost their lives crossing the border," Frey said, "The policy would be changed. The fact that they are 'no name, no face' people, the deaths continue."

Officials with the American Civil Liberties Union released a study of Gatekeeper's effects -- the study was conducted by Mexico's National Commission Human Rights -- recommending that more Border Patrol resources be directed toward search-and-rescue operations and family assistance.

The report also calls for "sensible and humane immigration and border policies ... to that end, reforms should provide legal and safe avenues for crossing the border ..."

ACLU board member William Aceves explained that passage meant "facilitating the immigration process," not an open border.

Added ACLU Executive Director Kevin Keenan: "We certainly are opposed to open borders, as such. We favor the national government's ability to control its borders and to control national security.

"That said," Keenan continued, "what we oppose is the U.S., and to a lesser extent Mexico, violating international human rights with a death count that's now well over 5,000."

In response, Peter Nunez, a board member of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, called the assertion of human rights violations "ludicrous."

"All of these people who try to come in -- and some who die -- have made a choice." said Nunez, a former U.S. Attorney.

"They have made a voluntary decision that they are willing to undergo the risk and danger to get out of Mexico, or wherever they're from, and come to the U.S ... Should we feel guilty because Mexico and other parts of the world have failed their own people, causing them to leave?  No.  I don't think the American people should have any guilt about that."

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