IMMIGRATION POLICY, BORDER SECURITY, AND MIGRANT DEATHS: AN IMPACT EVALUATION OF LIFE-SAVING EFFORTS UNDER THE BORDER SAFETY INITIATIVE
Subsequent to U.S. Border Patrol (USBP) efforts to control illegal immigration throughout the 1990s, concern arose over an apparent increase in deaths of illegal migrants as they began to undertake more treacherous routes to enter the United States from Mexico. In response, the Border Safety Initiative (BSI) was created to increase safety along the southwest border. Using multiple data sources, including the USBP BSI Incident Tracking System, this study evaluated the impact of life-saving efforts performed under the BSI program. Results indicate that there has been no overall reduction in the rate of migrant deaths since BSI has been in operation. However, an evaluation of BORSTAR search and rescue teams and the 2003 Lateral Repatriation Program (LRP), which returned apprehended migrants from Tucson sector to less hazardous places along the border, were found to be effective in preventing migrant deaths.
Critics of U.S. immigration policy claim that the only way reductions in migrant deaths along the U.S.-Mexico border can be achieved is through liberalization of immigration policy and relaxing of border security. Yet, for more than a decade, U.S. policy makers have increased restrictions on immigration and have tightened security at the borders. Considering this, alternative means must be deployed in order to save migrant lives in the near term rather than waiting for a reversal of immigration policy. This study suggests that proactive life-saving measures implemented through a harm-reduction strategy can have some impact on saving migrant lives.