Kee is a volunteer with the group the Samaritans, a migrant advocacy organization whose stated goals include "to save lives and relieve suffering of migrants in southern Arizona" and "to encourage elected leaders to humanize border policy."
The Samaritans have their hands full, and while they are, from what Truthout saw, doing a great job on the former, clearly every group or person sympathetic to the plight of immigrants in that state are shocked by the recent legal machinations of Arizona Governor Jan Brewer.
Arizona's new anti-immigrant law (SB1070) granting law enforcement personnel the right to detain people based on the "reasonable suspicion" that they are undocumented immigrants recently elicited strong condemnation from six UN human rights experts, who on May 11 claimed that the law may violate international standards that are binding in the US.
"A disturbing pattern of legislative activity hostile to ethnic minorities and immigrants has been established with the adoption of an immigration law that may allow for police action targeting individuals on the basis of their perceived ethnic origin," the experts said.
Isabel Garcia, an immigration advocate and federal public defender, told CNN on April 20 that the legislation "legalizes racial profiling" and added, "I think this bill represents the most dangerous precedent in this country, violating all of our due process rights. We have not seen this kind of legislation since the Jim Crow laws."
Brewer also signed a controversial bill that bans ethnic studies in Arizona schools, just three weeks after signing SB1070. The more recent law banning ethnic studies affects specialized courses in African American and Native American studies, and will probably shut down a popular Mexican-American studies program in the Tucson school district.
These draconian measures come on the heels of reports of immigrant abuses, like migrant women in US custody being shackled during childbirth (as reported by Inter Press Service this March), and reports by the same agency a year ago that human and civil rights organizations charged that migrant women, while in Arizona's Maricopa County Sheriff's Office jails, suffered broken arms, dislocated jaws, intimidation and other vulgarities.
The mild-mannered Kee, who has been doing this work for four years, took me to see the trails immigrants coming across the border into Arizona use on their long, dry march towards economic opportunity. (Even the US Border Patrol [BP] admits that more than 90 percent of immigrants come to the US due to economics.)
As we passed scrub brush, dry creek beds and various desert cactus while driving down the Altar Valley that most migrants use to enter Arizona, Kee told me how he comes out a few times each month to walk the trails with his first aid kit, extra water and food, looking for people in need - whether they be migrants from Mexico or Central and South America, or anyone else in this barren landscape in need of assistance.
People Are Dying in Our Backyard
"The BP, as part of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), has really stepped up their presence and policies here since 9/11," Kee explained, "So their increasing militarization of our border has forced migrants into more remote and mountainous regions to avoid getting caught. That has caused a dramatic increase in the number of deaths, and we're seeing it firsthand."
Sealing traditional crossing areas and forcing migrants into more isolated, remote, and deadly areas is known as the "Funnel Effect," as documented by the Bi-National Migration Institute.
The "collateral damage" from the BP and overall DHS policy comes in the form of what are referred to as "recovered remains." When people die from exposure in the desert, it is extremely difficult to determine when they died if the body is not found quickly. So county medical examiners in the area (Pima, Yuma and Cochise counties) tally the number of "recovered remains" brought to them each month.
This March, the Tucson-based human rights group Coalicion de Derechos Humanos announced that the number of recovered remains on the Arizona-Sonora border since October 1, 2009 had reached 85, a 60 percent increase from last year. And this does not accurately reflect the total extent of the crisis, as numbers of recovered remains in neighboring states are not available. But the increasing numbers are indicative of a failed policy.
Kat Rodriguez is the Coordinator of Derechos Humanos. "We also continue to see the tragic trend of the recovery of remains of unknown gender, which make up about 24.7 percent of the numbers this year," she wrote in a March press release about the dramatic increase in the number of recovered remains. "This means that approximately one in four individuals recovered are of unknown gender, making identification all the more difficult."