As Congress considers a path forward on immigration policy, the debate is playing out along desolate stretches of the southwestern border, where at least 7,209 people have died while crossing illegally over the past 20 years, reports NPR. A report by the aid group No More Deaths alleging that Border Patrol agents routinely sabotage humanitarian efforts is highlighting the tensions between federal agents and volunteers who try to help migrants. No More Deaths suggested that the recent arrest of a volunteer for harboring migrants in a well-known Arizona safe house was retaliation for the report.
While humanitarian groups argue Border Patrol is purposely funneling migrants into dangerous sections along the U.S.-Mexico border, agents on the ground say it is mostly smugglers who lead migrants into these hazardous areas, says Steven Passement of the U.S. Border Patrol’s Tucson sector. “The smugglers are the ones that are taking these folks out into these extreme desolate areas, and unfortunately, they’re lying to them. They’re leaving them out there,” he tells Here & Now’s Robin Young. “Those are the realities that we want folks to understand and know before coming.” Smugglers lie to migrants about the duration of the journey and the harsh environment, Passement says. Migrants are often beaten and raped by smugglers and left behind in the desert. At the same time, Passement says Border Patrol agents have stepped up their own humanitarian efforts. More than 30 rescue beacons are placed throughout the most dangerous area of the Arizona desert, he says, which led to the rescue of more than 1,400 people in 2016.