Deadly migrations in the Americas

Migrants traveling to the U.S. are blocked by the Mexican National Guard near the border between Guatemala and Mexico. PHOTO: Jose Cabezas / Reuters
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Planet Earth is in the midst of the largest migration of people in recorded history. Fueled by economic plunder exacerbated by unchecked climate warming, worldwide dislocation has caused at least 75,000 deaths since 1996. According to the International Organization of Migrations, at least 33,000 have died since 2014. These numbers do not include deaths in detention centers and refugee camps, or on the seas and deserts of migrant escape routes.

The United States Border Control doesn’t even bother to count border deaths unless an agent is involved. Neither does any other government agency. The majority of those who perish from forced labor, racist xenophobia, sexual violence and human trafficking also go unreported.

People abandon their homelands to flee unlivable conditions — in Africa, the Middle and Far East, the nations of Central America and South America, the Caribbean. Many head for neighboring countries. But most trek to the United States or European Union — superpower nations whose rulers rob migrants’ homelands of natural resources and create environmental destruction, corruption, and financial extortion.

Migration is not the problem, as the demagogues preach. Deadly exploitation of the world’s human and natural resources is.

U.S. crimes in the Americas. In the Western Hemisphere, the United States government has battered Central and South America for over two hundred years. In the twentieth century alone, the U.S. acted to bring down elected, popular governments in Guatemala, the Dominican Republic, Chile, Haiti, and Honduras. Starving peasants, leftists, unionists, activists and unemployed workers fled to survive. Newly installed U.S.-friendly dictators accepted huge loans from U.S. banks, pocketed much of the money themselves, and beefed-up repression to force workers and peasants to pay huge loan debts. The main beneficiaries were multinational banks, agribusiness, energy companies, clothing manufacturers.

The so-called “free trade” era in the early 1990s was inaugurated by the Clinton administration under the North American and Central American Free Trade Agreements, NAFTA and CAFTA. These trade deals were ruinous to workers north and south. And they caused a massive increase in border police as displaced workers and indigenous people fled north across Guatemala’s Mexico border.

In the U.S., big business hypes up xenophobic rhetoric to blame immigrants for the loss of jobs. Scapegoating immigrants has become a favorite tool of politicians, union misleaders, and racists of all stripes. It provides an excuse for the U.S. to heighten aid to Mexico to militarize its border with Guatemala, and to pressure Central American governments to police their own boundaries. All the while, U.S. politicians tout their “aid” to these corrupt governments as “helping the people survive.” In fact, immigrants working in the U.S. send more money in remittances to their families back home than the U.S. has ever sent in aid.

Trump famously amped up the rhetoric against migrants, calling them criminals, rapists and drug dealers, goading the growing nativist, white supremacist movement here. Under the guise of public health, Biden is deporting more refugees than Trump did. And he upholds the “don’t come” policies of the Trump, Obama, Bush and Clinton presidencies. He ordered an end to for-profit prisons, but exempted the private immigrant prison industry! Immigration officials still conduct raids one hundred miles inside U.S. borders. Indeed, Biden has deported more people than Trump did. That includes at least 9,000 Haitian immigrants, including children and pregnant women, deported in September and October 2021 from Del Rio, Texas. How many have died as a result? No one is counting.

In defense of immigrants. Migrants who survive the grueling journey to El Norte face endless obstacles based on their legal status, race and ethnicity. Those who find work labor in the hardest, most dangerous jobs. Migrants without documents are a quarter of the meatpacking industry and are deemed “essential.” Trump ordered them to keep working during the pandemic, often forced to buy their own protective equipment. Many lack sick leave, health insurance or unemployment coverage. The same is also true of many immigrants in restaurant and hospital, sanitation, childcare, grocery, education and construction work.

Community groups have stepped up to fight and win victories. One landmark struggle is the organizing around Tacoma, Washington’s Northwest Detention Center (NWDC), a privately owned for-profit prison built on a toxic waste dump. Activists in La Resistencia, led by immigrant women in and out of detention, have since 2016 launched hunger strikes, caravan protests, anti-deportation and healthcare campaigns, roadblocks and more. Many civil liberties groups, including Radical Women and Freedom Socialist Party, have joined this steadfast offense. This militant activism forced Washington State Gov. Inslee to cancel the NWDC contract — though not until 2025.

In Southern Arizona, the Arizona Daily Star reports “a sea of volunteers is doing the government’s job” helping migrants cross the desert where 7,000 have died since the 1990s. One group, No More Deaths based in Tucson and Phoenix, saves lives by putting out food and water. After posting videos of Border Control agents destroying water and other survival supplies, a prominent activist was tried and acquitted in a 9th District Court jury trial in November 2019. This was an important victory.

A U.S. movement is gathering against deadly immigration policing. Critically important to its growth is open acknowledgment of its systemic cause — global capitalism. This calls for wide collaboration and unwavering demands by U.S. militants in the homeland of world imperialism.

  •  Open all borders to migrants and refugees.
  •  Close down U.S. private detention centers.
  •  Halt deportations and family separations.
  •  Immediately expedite political asylum petitions.

Today’s immigration policies only serve to increase profits for a few. A movement that demands walls come down and immigrants be welcomed will save lives. And indeed, through international working-class alliances, it will ensure the survival of the planet and the welfare of all who inhabit Mother Earth.


Since 1994, at least 10,000 people have died in their attempt to cross the U.S.-Mexico border.

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