Multi-American | How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

Border deaths mark a sobering end to an intense month in the immigration debate

As we close a particularly intense month of public and political debate tied to immigration - the protests in Arizona over SB 1070, the controversy over a planned Islamic cultural center near Ground Zero, the talk of "anchor babies" as some GOP leaders push to end birthright citizenship - a couple of stories from the border this week have provided sobering context to the vociferous immigration debate.

On Tuesday in the Mexican border state of Tamaulipas, not far from Brownsville, Texas, Mexican marines discovered a mass grave containing the bodies of 72 migrants, men and women from Central and South America. According to the sole survivor, a 18-year-old man from Ecuador who escaped with gunshot woulds and alerted authorities, the 58 men and 14 women hailing from Ecuador, Brazil, Honduras and El Salvador were on their way to the United States after having illegally traversed Mexico.

They were kidnapped near the border by drug cartel soldiers who, according to the survivor, first demanded their money, which they didn't have. The victims were eventually executed, their bodies riddled with bullets. In both the United States and Mexico, the story has made terribly clear the growing danger that these foreign migrants, already subject to harsh treatment at the hands of Mexican authorities, are exposed to as they attempt to make it to this country.

Also this week, the Los Angeles Times was the most recent new outlet to report on an increase in migrant deaths along the border in Arizona. Late last month, shortly before heading to Phoenix to report on the SB 1070 protests, I wrote a post about how overall border-crossing deaths in the U.S. Border Patrol’s arid Tucson sector this year had already topped the number recorded by the agency during federal fiscal year 2005, the deadliest year on record along the entire southwest border. That year, 492 migrants were found dead border-wide. (The federal fiscal year runs from Sept. 30 to Oct. 1.)

The LAT story mentioned how one Pima County medical examiner's official had not expected there to be so many deaths this year, given Arizona's strict stance on illegal immigration. Indeed, arrests of illegal border crossers have been down in recent years. But as evidenced by the rising Arizona border death toll - and by the lengthy trek made by the migrants massacred in Tamaulipas, who traveled from as far south as Brazil at tremendous risk to make it within a relative stone's throw of Texas - people are still willing to walk through fire to make it to this country, even in a recession.

What do you think? Would stricter anti-illegal immigration policies in themselves deter people from attempting to make the crossing?