Photo of Drowned Syrian Child Reminder of US Border Deaths
The flashbacks came pouring in when Enrique Morones first saw the photo of a young Syrian child who had washed up on a Turkish beach after drowning in the Mediterranean Sea.
"I have seen that little boy," he recalled thinking.
But Morones, founder of Border Angels, a San Diego-based humanitarian group, was not remembering that specific child, identified as 3-year-old Aylan Kurdi. Instead, Morones said he's seen too many tiny bodies like Aylan's while leaving water bottles for undocumented immigrants along America's southwest border with Mexico.
"I have been in the desert and seen their bodies," Morones said. "That's a very profound image because people hear about this, but they rarely see it. And because there are no images, there is no outrage."
Morones and members of other humanitarian groups say they don't understand why Americans have not paid more attention to the "humanitarian crisis" happening along the border of their own country, where hundreds of people die each year trying to enter the U.S.
The U.S. Border Patrol estimates 307 people died on the U.S. side of the border in 2014, a figure that has been as high as 492 in 2005. That doesn't include the countless others who die each year in Mexico and Central America trying to reach the U.S.
While there's no official border-wide estimate of the number of children who die each year, records from the Pima County (Ariz.) Office of the Medical Examiner-Forensic Science Center provide a clue. Between 2001 and 2013, the office processed more than 2,400 bodies found in the borderlands, including 72 minors.
Robin Reineke, the executive director of the Colibrí Center for Human Rights in Tucson, Ariz., said America's lack of interest is a direct result of how the country treats undocumented immigrants. The general public and many politicians characterize them as "law-breakers and criminals," making many in the U.S. less sensitive to the dangers migrants face when trying to illegally cross into the country, she said.
"What that does is constantly limit and cut off the ability of officials, of volunteers, of communities to respond on a humanitarian level," said Reineke, whose center helps identify bodies and hand them back to their families. "It feels like swimming upstream in order to do what seems like a basic, human issue — to protect one another."
ddie Canales, founder of the South Texas Human Rights Center, said that mentality extends to Border Patrol agents and local law enforcement officials along the nearly 2,000-mile border. Canales' group, which also provides water for passing migrants and helps families find their missing relatives, said many groups receive little help from the government.
For example, he said law enforcement agents will often go the extra mile to get permission from ranchers to track down undocumented immigrants evading capture on their property. But Canales said he's rarely seen a similar effort to recover a dead body so it can be returned to a family.
"That's the problem that we have to deal with in terms of the mindset," Canales said. "I think that's reflected worldwide, in terms of being harsh and anti-immigrant and being callous to refugees and asylum seekers.
"I think we're a better country than that."
The Border Patrol did not respond to a request for comment.