The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


Working to end border deaths

The May deaths of 14 Mexicans just inside the United States drew national attention to the perils of border-crossing. The immigrants died in the heat of the Arizona desert, but others have died by drowning, dehydration, exposure or exhaustion. Still others die at the hands of bandits, vigilantes and, in rare cases, border guards.

In 2000, officials counted 369 people dead at the U.S.-Mexico border. "We have every reason to suppose people are dying and not found," says Merrill Smith, Washington, D.C., representative of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, Baltimore. Most illegal crossings occur in remote areas, where bodies decompose quickly or are ravaged by coyotes.

To quell these deaths, LIRS is calling for legislation to legalize crossing the border for work. "It's not that we believe in open borders," Smith says, citing the ELCA message on immigration, which says borders are needed to prevent drugs and criminals from entering the country (www.elca.org/dcs/immigrate_message.html).

Besides saving lives, legalized economic migration benefits immigrants' home communities, he says. About $8 billion a year is earned in the United States and invested in clinics, schools and small businesses in Mexico.

The United States would benefit too, Smith says. "The American economy generates more demand for goods and services than can be provided. It's why thousands of people come here from Mexico to work. By letting them do that it's to our benefit," he says.

But Smith adds that U.S. benefit isn't the main reason to support economic migration. "Our focus as Lutherans is to look to the humanitarian interests of the migrants themselves," he says.


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February issue


Embracing diversity