Readers may draw one significant conclusion from the powerful print and video report, "Deadly crossing: Death toll rises among those desperate for the American Dream," (NBC, October 9, 2012): People will continue to die crossing the southern border as long as they believe a U.S. job awaits.
Border deaths are up as much as 200 percent in some areas. In Brooks County, Texas, the Sheriff's office receives no financial assistance from the federal government and struggles to keep up with the body count. Most of the deceased are found by ranchers who reluctantly accept property damage, trash, and human remains as a fact of their daily lives. A group of Ranchers has formed the Texas Border Volunteers, who form regular search-and-rescue tours on their own properties.
For Central Americans, a smuggling fee costs between $5,000 and $7,000; for Chinese and Pakistanis, as much as $50,000. According to an agent quoted in the NBC story, the Border Patrol has a message for would-be illegal aliens: "Don’t put your life in the hands of these ruthless people. To them, you’re just a commodity. You’re not a human being. You’re cargo."
Marta Iraheta traveled to to Brooks County from Houston to identify the remains of her nephew and his friend who had put their lives into the hands of smugglers. They were both from El Salvador and both named "Elmer." Iraheta's nephew was twenty years old; his friend was seventeen. On their ill-fated journey, the teenager dropped from exhaustion and the smugglers moved on without him. When Iraheta's nephew hurt his leg and fell behind the next day, the group abandoned him too. Iraheta came looking for his remains so his two-year-old daughter might someday visit his grave.
The story of Iraheta and the two Elmers is tragic and perplexing. Why, when illegal immigration is more expensive and deadly than ever, do people continue to try? "Money is the reason," according to the reporters. People will continue to cross illegally - or die trying - as long as they think they can illegally get a job.
Washington likes to talk about securing the border but is less enthusiastic about securing the workplace.
In his research, Jeffrey Passel of the Pew Hispanic Center found that illegal aliens hold more than 7 million non-farm jobs. That's the incentive that leads so many to their deaths. In an interview with NPR last December, Passel said "if you're faced with a $3,000 smuggler fee and maybe going through the desert, but won't be able to get a job here, you're much less likely to come."
Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director John Morton agrees. In an interview last March, Morton told C-SPAN: "It will be a lot harder for people to come here illegally for labor if they know that when they get here there will be an effort to verify whether or not they have employment authorization."
The system that Morton describes, known as E-Verify, has been available to employers since 1997, but Congressional leaders from both political parties have thwarted efforts to make the verification system mandatory.
Unfortunately, the NBC report doesn't mention E-Verify. Worse, it wrongly suggests that expanding legal immigration would reduce illegal immigration. That's misleading because (1) with more than 20 million Americans unable to find full-time work, the U.S. doesn't have enough jobs for the citizens and legal immigrants who are already here; and (2) illegal immigration rises - not declines - as legal immigration increases.
The solution is, as Morton and Passel have concluded, to secure the American workplace. The question the media should ask is why has Washington failed to mandate E-Verify?
At the end of NBC's report, Marta Iraheta says of Elmer's doomed voyage: "I hope that everyone sees that it’s not worth it..." Iraheta's message is a life-saving one that the federal government refuses to send.
JEREMY BECK is the Director of the Media Standards Project for NumbersUSA
Updated: Tue, Oct 16th 2012 @ 12:38pm EDT