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Inter-American Commission on Human Rights Should Investigate U.S.-Mexico Border Crossing Deaths

(SAN DIEGO)  – The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of San Diego and Imperial Counties is calling on U.S., Mexican and international officials to recognize the alarming number of migrant deaths at the U.S. - Mexico border as an international humanitarian crisis; address the ongoing violations of the right to life and identify protective measures going forward.

The ACLU joined together with Mexico's National Commission on Human Rights (Comision Nacional de Derechos Humanos - CNDH) and sent a letter to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) - a commission of the Organization of American States (OAS). In the letter, they requested that the IACHR get permission from the U.S. and Mexican governments to make an onsite visit to the region. They further requested that once there, the IACHR conduct an investigation on the crisis, issue a report for the General Assembly of the OAS, and identify measures that both countries should adopt to bring them in compliance with their international human rights obligations.

For emphasis, the ACLU and CNDH also provided the commission with the 76 page white paper they drafted documenting the situation: Humanitarian Crisis: Migrant Deaths at the U.S.-Mexico Border. The release of this report marked the 15th anniversary of the border enforcement policy, Operation Gatekeeper. This policy not only provided a higher concentration of border agents, but added walls and fencing along populated areas, forcing migrants into hostile environments and creating natural barriers that increased the incidence of injury and death. Since the program’s inception, an average of one migrant per day has died.

“More than 5,000 people have died crossing our border, and an estimated seven to eleven percent of them are children,” said Kevin Keenan, Executive Director of the ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties. “Equally alarming are the hundreds of family members who are left in inconsolable limbo, never knowing the fate of their loved one.”

According to their report, family members have no alternative recourse, and are often faced with complex or contradictory methods and red-tape when merely trying to locate a loved one who may be missing or even dead. State obligations to these families with regards to migrant deaths at the border has never been addressed. There is no uniform standard or centralized data base for locating the migrants or identifying their remains. One-quarter of those who perish in transit are never identified, leaving their families behind in a permanent state of anguish.

Ten years ago, the San Diego ACLU submitted a petition to the IACHR alleging that U.S. border enforcement-deterrence strategies under Operation Gatekeeper violated the right to life under Article 1 of the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man. The Commission initially expressed concern over the findings, even agreeing to monitor the situation, but eventually dismissed the petition and things have only gotten worse.

“Since the Commission consented to monitor the border situation, we respectfully ask that they now act on their concerns,” said Jose Luis Soberanes, president of CNDH. “When they initially expressed unease, only 300 migrants had died. Today, nearly twenty times that number have died—many of their deaths directly attributable to U.S. border enforcement policies.”

The local ACLU hopes that since the United States and Mexico are bound by the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, they will soon begin to adopt policies or negotiate bilateral agreements to deal with the crisis. Their recent white paper on the situation only highlights the fact that to date, the two countries have seemingly abandoned their obligations under international law to respect and ensure the rights of migrant populations.