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Notes 5-13-2010

May 16, 2010

Random News & Notes

Photo courtesy of the Gatekeeper Foundation from “The 800 Mile Wall”

Reducing Death Toll on the Border 

Gatekeeper Foundation photo

It’s one of those odd, seemingly random factoids that can throw unexpected light on the craziness of our governmental policies: “According to one border medical examiner, the processing, identification and storage of recovered bodies cost his office an estimated $100,000 annually.”  The quote is from a recent study of deaths among migrants attempting to cross the Mexico-U.S. border. The October, 2009, study, A Humanitarian Crisis: Migrant Deaths at the US – Mexico Border was authored by Maria Jimenez for the San Diego ACLU, together with Mexico’s National Commission for Human Rights. It estimates that there have been more than 5,000 fatalities in the last 15 years among people attempting to cross the border. From the Study’s Executive Summary:    

“Nations have the sovereign prerogative to protect their territorial integrity and defend their citizenry. That power, however, is restricted and constrained by international obligations to respect fundamental human rights. Unfortunately, these restraints have not precluded the U.S. government from deploying deadly border enforcement policies and practices that, by design and by default, lead to at least one death every day of a migrant crossing the border. We are sounding an alarm for a humanitarian crisis…”
          “Beginning in 1994, the U.S. government implemented a border enforcement policy known as “Operation Gatekeeper” that used a “prevention and deterrence” strategy…intentionally forcing undocumented immigrants to extreme environments and natural barriers that the government anticipated would increase the likelihood of injury and death. The stated goal was to deter migrants from crossing. But this strategy did not work.” 

Humane Borders photo

Many of these deaths have resulted from heat exposure and dehydration – it’s virtually impossible for an individual to carry enough water for a several day trek in desert conditions, and many don’t realize that that’s what they’ll be facing. (See the devastating “Testimony of Martin Gonzales” on page 19 of the study.) 
            Whatever one may think about current U.S. immigration policies – or about those who cross borders to escape poverty and abuse – these deaths are a totally avoidable and therefore shameful tragedy, and a number of civil society organizations have mobilized to try to at least reduce them. One of them, Humane Borders has placed more than 100 emergency water stations near border crossing areas, along with maps of their locations, while also creating posters warning of the dangers of border crossing. Their humanitarian efforts have the support of a wide range of local governments and other public agencies, as well as private landowners along the border. 

PHR Board Member to
Head Medicare/Medicaid?

It shouldn’t go unmentioned that President Obama’s current nomination to be the Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Donald Berwick, MD, has been a Board Member of Physicians for Human Rights for several years.
          Does this mean he’ll be a sympathetic ear for some of the causes that PHR has been involved in – its campaigns against torture and to ban landmines; its widespread network of physicians, psychologists and other healthcare workers who provide support to asylum seekers; its international forensic program investigating human rights violations, war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide?
          We can hope…  

[Followup Note: I must have written the above in a highly unusual (for me) mood of midnight optimism. What was I thinking? It’s unlikely that Berwick — even if he overcomes Republican opposition and gets the Medicaid/Medicare job — would be in a position to do much at all about most of the above issues. One area where he might be able to have an impact, though, would be in increasing the healthcare entitlements available to refugees. Currently, many refugees are eligible for only eight months of Refugee Medical Assistance (generally comparable to Medicaid), beginning from their arrival in the country. The same program is available to asylees (people who have been granted asylum) but not to asylum seekers.]

PHR National Student
Program Seeking Volunteers

The National Student Program of Physicians for Human Rights is a great organization – one of our best hopes for a more humane and public-spirited medical profession. Right now, the Program is looking for applicants to become Regional Mentors and Training Coordinators: “Use your creativity, sense of humor, ability to organize, and dedication to human rights to serve as a liaison between your region’s Chapters, the PHR offices in Cambridge, and the halls of legislature.” Find further information and application forms on the group’s blog.

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