Immigrants recovering from ordeal in desert

Rights groups protest border policies of U.S.

May 26, 2001|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

YUMA, Ariz. - The conditions of 12 Mexican immigrants who survived furnacelike conditions in the desert near here were improving yesterday, doctors said.

And a number of immigrant rights groups said the deaths of 14 other illegal border crossers had caused them to consider stronger challenges to what they call hostile U.S. border policy.

One group, the California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation, held a march yesterday at a Southern California cemetery where some of the hundreds of immigrants who die every year after illegally entering the United States are buried in unmarked graves.

A vigil was held Thursday night in Tucson for the hundreds of people who died in that region after illegally entering the United States in search of better-paying jobs. Some groups in southeastern Arizona have said they are expanding a program to place water stations at remote locations frequented by illegal immigrants.

An Arizona lawyer said her organization was considering a legal challenge to the federal government's tough enforcement policy, known as Operation Gatekeeper and initiated in 1995, which has cut back on crossings in urban areas such as San Diego and diverted hundreds of thousands of immigrants to remote areas, like the one where the 14 died this week.

The operation has involved construction of miles of tall fences, increasing the number of armed Border Patrol agents and using the military to stem the flood of illegal immigrants.

Isabel Garcia, a lawyer in Tucson with the Arizona Border Rights Project, which coordinates assistance for immigrants, said her group was so appalled by the latest deaths - the largest single incident at the border here since 1980 - that she was considering filing a complaint against the federal government in some international human rights tribunal.

"It's time to look into legal liability for the government's policies, which have caused these tragedies," Garcia said. "If this was happening in some other country, our government would condemn it."

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