Frontline World


Mexico, A DEATH IN THE DESERT, June 2004



Read through archived FRONTLINE/World conversations around this story below.

Jeremy - Boston, MA
"What are the Mexicans doing to achieve justice and equality in their own backyard?"

Mexicans who criticize their government tend to be either ignored or, occaisionally, they go 'missing'.

"Before they blame America for their plight..."

Mexicans rarely blame America for 'their plight'.

"...they should have the courage to criticize and protest..."

Sigh. Safe in America, where you can say and do anything you want, don't you think it's a little presumptuous of you to dictate politics to people in other countries. Why didn't the Afghans throw out the Taliban? Why don't the Fur fight back against the Janjaweed?

Why? Well, fear of death, for one thing. It's all fine and dandy to say "Give me liberty or give me death!", except, of course, that we here in the United States are rarely threatened with death.

Anonymous - Orlando, Florida
We can keep complaining about illegals but know one has given us a good solution. Maybe we should build a wall like the Israelis? Or maybe we should try to help build the Mexican economy-(NAFTA) - so that Mexicans have no need to leave Mexico for work. It is definitely in all our interest to do so.

Jeremy - Boston, Massachusetts
Something else that just occurred to me: Few people have a problem with buying jeans, coffee, DVDs, electronics, fruit, or anything else that comes from halfway around the world. That's the whole goal of globalization, isn't it? That there should be no barriers between products and customers.

But people? No, no, no: the same people who ardently wave the flag of free trade are the same ones who demand that everyone on earth stay locked behind borders and that those with the temerity to cross a border--in other words, who actually put into practice the notion that labor is a commodity like any other--deserve to die.

Robert Schoen - Karlsruhe, Germany
Well made and in opposition to the voyeuristic journalism that is sweeping regularly over the Atlantic. These clips - they have the rhythm of compassion. Congratulations and thanks to the producer. Keanolo - San Jose, California
The plight of the Mexican campesino is no doubt heart rendering which should elicit a sense of sympathy and empathy in all compassionate people. However, the state of Mexican society with its corruption, inequalities and its myriad of socio-economic problems perpetuated by a political system that that cares nothing for its citizens. What are the Mexicans doing to achieve justice and equality in their own backyard? Before they blame America for their plight they should have the courage to criticize and protest against the institutions which have created and perpetuated the conditions under which they have lived for the past 100 years.

Anonymous - Mt. Pleasant, Michigan
I am 21 years old and thinking about pursuing graduate school and specializing in Latin American studies. Never have I felt so compelled to pursue these dreams until after viewing this program. I was touched and my heart ached for this family. My father was also an immigrant from Mexico who has worked hard for what he has today. I think it only fitting that I give back to my people by studying the reasons and effects of Mexican immigrants on our country. What would we be without the people that are willing to go out into the dead heat of the summer, sun and pick the shiny, perfect grapes you probably have in you refrigerator. It's time for justice, it's time for the deaths to stop, and it's time to give those who want to enter this country the same opportunities your ancestors were given.

Jeremy - No location given
"The U.S. cannot continue to be the welfare system..." If I had a nickel for every time I've heard someone complain about "immigrants on welfare". Get your facts straight: There are NO immigrants on welfare right now. The 1996 welfare reforms made it ILLEGAL for even legal, documented immigrants to receive welfare until they had lived in the U.S. and worked for 5 years. The same goes for Medicaid and all other public benefits.

Jeremy Cusker - Boston, Massachusetts
Many of the postings here repulse me. People exulting over this man's death and proclaiming, "Shows him right!"

You don't have to support open borders or amnesty for immigrants, but it would be nice if all parties here would acknowledge that a human being--a soul-bearing, unique individual, beloved by God like all the rest of us--died.

More pragmatically, it should be noted that these people are not coming after "your" job. How many people here are field hands? How many work in chicken-processing plants? How many people here work re-treading tires? These people are here to do jobs that are the three D's: Dirty, Dangerous, and Demeaning. Our economy lives and dies by them, no less than it does the high-paid CEOs, engineers, and managers that Americans all want to become.

And finally, let me re-iterate what I've said before: there are NO immigrants on welfare. Since 1996, it has been IMPOSSIBLE by law for even legal, documented immigrants to receive welfare or Medicaid. Mexicans who come here do so because they want work.

Anonymous - El Cajon, California
First, I know it's probably a pathetically small effort on my part, but is there any way to get some money to the family of this man who died? I especially would like to help the younger brother who is working here. He is so young, brave, thoughtful and alone.

Next, are there no international aid programs that exist to set up businesses in areas like this small town in Oaxaca? Isn't that what they are supposed to do? It would be horrible if the grandfather now ventured out to the U.S., when a good small chili farm might save him that horror.

And finally, borders are useless. Oaxaca, and many part of Mexico are beautiful places, and it is their home. They only come here to work so they can return there. The tighly closed border we now have results in more Mexicans staying here (not what was intended I'm sure) as getting back and forth is so difficult and dangerous.

Illegal Mexican workers are not taking jobs away from Americans. I don't see many Americans applying for the backbreaking work of picking fruit and vegetables, or working in slaughterhouses, or many of the other physically demanding, emotionally exhausting types of work they do here.

Next time you drive by a strawberry field look hard at how the people picking the fruit are bent over and imagine their back pain at the end of the day. Imagine trying to do this yourself for even 4 hours. Think about it when you eat a strawberry...

One day we will look back on this border and wonder how we could have let it happen. Wake up to the pain of others!

Bob Lloyd - Lake City, Florida
A very powerful but sad heart-rending story! We feel so for those poor children and the loss of their beloved father. Would there be a way to get our sympathy and concern directly to them?

Anonymous - Sisters, Oregon
I was both moved and angered by Ms. Spicuzza and Ms. LoMonaco's piece about the family in Mexico.

The rhetoric about migrant farm workers goes on ad nauseum, but nothing is done to ease these peoples' plight.

It is obvious, that if for decades poor migrant workers have made this journey, they must feel compelled to do so. To leave one's family for months on end is not a decision made lightly. I am an immigrant from the UK. I came in 1967. Obtaining a visa was very simple then. I am grateful for the life I have led in the US and know how hard it is to leave one's home.

The point of this email? Is it possible to help the Matias Garcia family directly?

FRONTLINE/World Responds
A number of viewers and Web site visitors have written to us asking for information about how to help the Garcia family. We will be responding to those requests individually.

Anonymous - Elgin, Illinois
I also felt sorry for the family of Mr. Garcia. I felt sorry that knowing the dangers, he still chose to risk his life to cross our border illegally, chancing death while knowing the effect this would have on his family. This was not his first crossing, he had done it for 12 years! Even if he had not made the crossing since we tightened the old border crossing site, he would have known of the dangers from all the other men in town that had done it. Mr. Garcia found a way to afford an airline flight to the border but yet apparently never tried to pay whatever fee is involved and cross the border legally. This program seemed to be trying to blame the U.S. for tightening up our border, but never once put any responsibility on Mr. Garcia. If Ms. LoMonoco wanted to do a fair report, she should also check out Mexico's border policies for their southern border. They don't just give undocumented immigrants a free ride home, they put them in jail or shoot them!

Kelly Stone - Atlanta, Georgia
The U.S. cannot continue to be the welfare system and the HMO of the world. Why don't you report on the number of criminals that are crossing the desert into our country illegally? One report I saw stated that up to 75% of outstanding arrest warrants in CA were for illegal aliens. Why not discuss how illegals coming here without going through health screenings are bringing in TB and leprosy, diseases once eradicated in this country? Why not report on how providing free health care to illegals has bankrupted hospitals all over the U.S., to the point that health care for citizens and legal immigrants is compromised? Let's discuss how our law enforcement systems are strained to the breaking point with all the added crime brought in by illegals, yet they are not allowed to deport or in many cases even check an immigrant's legal status upon detainment. Let's talk about how Mexico has an organized and well thought out plan to colonize portions of America that they feel are rightfully theirs. Let's look at how these people are making a laughing stock of the U.S. laws by their illegal presence here, and how they are bankrupting our social service rolls by demanding the American tax payer put them on the dole once they are here. I am not against immigration, I am against illegal immigration. Illegal immigration is destroying any semblance of an American Dream future for our children. These people want the American dream? Then don't take it away from MY child-- come here legally.

George Ebersole - Foster City, California
Unlike those who sympathized with the Garcias family I found myself very much angered with their offspring, and wondering why the people in Mexico (specifically the migrant worker sect, and illegal immigrants) don't get it through their skulls that we have walls, laws and other barriers along our border for a reason. I could care less that the man died of thirst and heat in the desert. He deserved it. He was warned, he and his friends understood the perils, and yet they ventured forth regardless.

What is it about these people? People who get it in their head to violate our laws and land, and for what; for a few dollars? Despite being poor the Garcias were not starved (as was shown, stated and demonstrated in the piece). These are not the hapless dispossessed from Somalia or a Balkan Republic. I did not see any indication that the Garcia's' family was wanting for anything. Were they poor? Most assuredly, but they were not destitute, nor were they denied the basics of living, unlike the truly abused of Africa, the Middle East and other parts of the globe embroiled in conflict.

Lastly, I'm equally troubled and outraged by the amount of viewer sympathy authored in the reactions to the piece. The whole point and intent of the news's story was to elicit an emotional response (the scroll of post mortem "John Does" at the end as an example of film making technique). It wasn't to present facts so the viewer could weigh the pros and cons. I didn't see any interviews with poor U.S. families trying to find jobs. Jobs that they may've taken were it not for the migrant worker. Nor did I see interviews with workers who went through the process to come to the U.S. legally, and what they thought of workers illegally entering our country. To me this was not an objective piece, but one with an agenda.

Quite frankly I don't care that the Garcia's' family lost their son crossing illegally into the United States. I really don't. In fact I hope we have more of like examples to demonstrate just how unwanted illegal migrant workers and/or immigrants are by the American people.

Jill Shultz - Mableton, Georgia
This story should have focused more on the lack of Mexico to fix the problems in their own country. There are billions of people who are poorer than Mexicans who would like to come to the US to live. Just because Mexico shares a common border with the US it doesn't give them any right to come here illegally.

Lawrence Headrick - Tunnel Hill, Georgia
You can preach "They're doing it for a better life," but you can't take the crime out of crime.

It is a violation of U.S. Law to cross the borders without proper permission. Those who violate that law should not be rewarded by allowing them to remain in the U.S. Nor should those illegal aliens be allowed to send earnings out of the U.S.

When will America and Americans wake up and smell the garbage that is being cast upon America by bleeding heart liberals and traitors who aid and abet the criminals that cross our borders illegally?

It is a known fact that people on welfare who have children on welfare will continue the cycle of welfare recipients.

With illegal aliens coming to the US and taking welfare, which they do, will we be able to avoid the ultimate state of SOCIALISM? Is that America's destiny?

Illegal aliens are criminals no matter what other spin you put on it.

Jackson Handmacher - Norcross, Georgia
The current situation is untenable. Illegal immigration has created an underclass of Latin Americans who neither speak English nor have any loyalty to the USA, who send their earnings home and, when there is no work here, resort to crime against Americans.

Unless and until the President and Congress get serious about this problem nothing will be done to protect our nation. We are becoming a country of two separate people, epitomized by the message, "press 1 for English."

Ron Satchewicz - San Diego, California
Your program indicates deaths of migrant workers illegally crossing our borders is due to American immigration policies and greater enforcement of our borders. That certainly is not the cause of their deaths. First there is personal responsibility for the choice to break our laws and place themselves at jeopardy to the elements. And the real cause is obviously poverty. Therefore I have to ask Where is and why not lay some of this "responsibility" at the Mexican governments feet? After all they are an oil rich country. What is Mexico doing to aid their own people? Does not a country have a right to be "Sovereign" in protecting it's borders, or are we to simply be assimilated by law breakers. And what fairness is it to those who enter this country legally through the process that is already in place to become citizens who wait sometimes years before getting here....

Anonymous - Naples, Florida
It should open the eyes of the american people to see how good they have it here. Also maybe open the eyes of the government to see what these people are going through to get here just to feed their children and families to take of there needs, its not like there coming here to save money for porches and name brand clothes. You know they did not choose to be born there (a poor country). Anyone from america would be doing the same thing for their children and families. And the people that employed the immigrants that they work hard for there money and they shouldn't take of advantage of there situation. this story is very sad and heart renching but people out there need to know whats going. I hope that every person that reads this story prays for the people in mexico.

Amy - San Juan Capistrano
This was a very sad story...putting all else aside, the fact is, children lost their father, a women lost her husband, a mother lost her son. How said for people to judge this man for doing what he had to do to try and provide for his family. How can anyone even think they can judge this man for they have not been in his shoes. Is there a way to provide help directly to Matias Garcias family?

FRONTLINE/World Responds
A number of viewers and Web site visitors have written to us asking for information about how to help the Garcia family. We will be responding to those requests individually.

Lucis Reyes - Fort Meyers, Florida
All I can do is cry. I used to be a migrant worker and now I work in a university. Here people talk about exercising, sunscreen to go walking and low carbs diets. Migrant worker only have one thing on their mind. The survival of their families and there is no limit to what we are welling [stet] to do. I thank the LORD for what I have and I pray for safe crossing for all who cross the desert.

Anonymous - Sunnyvale, California
This was a very moving report. I was online at once since I wanted to read more about the border crossing deaths. I was touched to read the interview with the two Berkeley reporters - Claudine and Mary - and how their lives got interwined with the lives of Mathias' family.

The border crossing is a very complex problem that has its roots in the macro-economic links between U.S. and Mexico.

It's obvious that the U.S. government needs to do more to help alleviate these problems. This problem has to be dealt with in many levels:

1. The U.S. government should work with the Mexican government to improve the standard of living in Mexico.
2. The U.S. should completely seal the border so that people are not forced to cross in the desert regions.
3. Make hiring of illegal immigrants illegal with strict enforcement in the U.S.
4. Allow for legal immigration of migrant workers to fill the need of the U.S. labor market.

My 2 cents.

William Jackson - Augusta, Georgia
A country by definition has borders. These borders preserve the accumulated wealth and culture that it's citizens have earned and left to each following generation. Illegal immigrants only wish to earn wealth and send it home to their own country. Illegal Immigrants should work and fight to change the laws of their own country as our fore fathers did so they can prosper through freedom and property rights and stay in their own country. Your story is nothing but propaganda advocating law breaking by illegal immigrants and the dissolution of our country by it's loss of borders.

Anonymous - Santa Cruz, California
The deaths crossing the border can be laid at the feet of advocates for illegal immigrants who oppose the kind of comprehensive enforcement that is necessary to deter such crossings. The virtual non-enforcement away from the border zone that President Clinton instituted when he began "Operation Gatekeeper" guaranteed its ineffectiveness. The logical consequence was to make the rewards of being in the country illegally greater while at the same time increasing the cost of getting here, including the ultimate cost of many lives. For most the risk of death is worth what has become a de facto amnesty once away from the border with ever decreasing barriers to the many opportunities available to those in the country illegally. It should be obvious that we cannot have an immigration policy that reflects the will of the electorate if the laws that would make it possible aren't going to be enforced. Yet this is what advocates for illegal immigrants rail against and politicians refuse to do. Instead they argue that the massive number of illegal immigrants in the country that has resulted from their own disregard for both immigration law and the wishes of the majority of the electorate justifies things that would further undermine it, from driver's licenses to amnesties and even the ultimate abandonment of our sovereign choice of immigration levels, an open border. Of course this is an understanding of the illegal immigration problem that will never find its way into a PBS program even though a large portion of the population would likely agree with it. It goes to show just how much the concept of serving all the public matters to the Public Broadcasting System.

Angela Wilkes - Bicknell, Indiana
This was a very moving piece of journalistic license. I truly felt for the family who lost their son/husband/father, but I was extremely disappointed in the fact that a certain level of integrity had not been achieved by your staff in the making of this feature.

What wasn't mentioned once, and I was waiting to hear it, was that these men were BREAKING THE LAW. You mentioned "smugglers" but avoided using the much more honest "illegal immigrant." They are NOT victims. They take calculated risks in showing disregard for our borders. So what? The fenceline moved east into the desert? These aliens still choose to cross. I have absolutely NO PROBLEM with the people who are here legally...I wish them "Good Luck" and "God Bless You" and I hope they find what they are looking for. I am the child of a LEGAL immigrant who earned his citizenship through the acceptable channels.

In January, Pres. Bush proposed a plan that would open up hundreds of thousands of work visas or "Green Cards" so that more migrant workers could arrive in the US legally and work. I thought that was GREAT! This proposal is languishing in Congress forgotten. Perhaps you could do a follow-up on that?

Beverly Frazier - Del Mar, California
It is the poverty in the minds of their leaders that have led Mexican citizens to leave their country in duress to achieve a few dollars for labor. These illegal trips cost lives, cause misery to families, and gain little. I have visited Mexico since 1951, finding so much beauty in the land, the people and their arts. I have also sat hours in the lines at the border and seen them trying to sell really awful things, knowing their innate talents could lead to lines of people waiting to buy their work. Why is this outrageous outcome of governmental neglect permitted to occur decade after decade? Programs to encourage art and crafts would cost little and produce not only money but joy for a great many people.

Anonymous - Portland, Oregon
WHY don't we give business to Mexico, so those poor people don't have to leave their families, risk death crossing our borders, to work on farms at the lowest of wages, just so their loved ones can have food and a shanty????? Its shameful.. Mexico and Canada are our closest neighbors, I think its time We Unite.....A concerned American

Anonymous - Corvallis, Oregon
The US should spend more money on making a livelihood possible for more people rather than protecting our standard of living. At the minimum water tanks should be provided in the desert.

Michael Schmid - Leucadia, California
How tragic. Unfortunately, the lack of enforcement of the border is a safety valve for Mexico, and it's corrupt government. Our lack of control and the management of migrant workers is due to the poiticians being afraid of the Hispanic power in the southwest and California. We need to allow migrant workers to enter in a controlled fashion. Not allow the migrant population to bankrupt the hospitals and schools in this country.

Robert Lofft - Eugene, Oregon
I thought all three stories on this evening's telecast of Frontline/World were exceptionally well done. I was absorbed by them. But I was especially moved by "A Death in the Desert." PBS has helped me to see things differently, to better understand the plight of others much less fortunate than I. I just wanted to say thank you.

Alan Zachwieja - Port Angeles, Washington
I am sympathetic with both sides of the argument about Mexican migrant workers. Both those who want to gain all rights possible for Mexican workers, and those who want to secure our borders and kick out all illegal aliens, including Mexicans.

As a romantic who believes in freedom of travel and migration across the face of the earth, I sympathize with poor people seeking sustenance and money wherever they can. I always want the people traversing the dangerous deserts of the American Southwest to survive.

I myself have worked in the labor underground of a number of countries, just to survive, in my travels through the earth on a workingman's tour of the world.

But as a penniless American hitchhiking through America in the 1970's, I always resented that the Republican farmers and ranchers would not hire me to work in the harvest of their fields, and only hired illegal alien Mexicans. And I am a hard worker, and always have been. While working in the apple harvest in England, in 1979 and 1980, I was considered the fastest applepicker in the region, and also with the lowest percentage of bruises. In all jobs I have worked, I have always been conscientious and worked harder than was expected. I say this, not to glorify myself, but to point out the flaws of the American agricultural economy, and the plight of earnest workers in American capitalism. Working too hard was never appreciated by my fellow co-workers. And I was sometimes fired from jobs, such as night supermarket stocking, for speaking the truth and for trying to improve the work environment. Suggestions for better efficiency and better safety were never appreciated by management. But that was in the 1970's. Perhaps America's current employers have more respect and consideration for their hard-working employees.

So now I scrape by with low-paying odd jobs, doing repairs for aging liberals, since all the other jobs in this region are given only to Mexicans.

Still, it is ironic that America is being reclaimed by the Indians (only, of the Mexican regions). If all the Mexicans in America were to go on strike for a month, or a year, I think the American economy would collapse, because Americans have forgotten how to work, and how a just civilization functions. The Mexicans will inherit America. And the Republicans, greedy for greater profits on the backs of cheap labor, with be at fault. Greed blinds the perpetrators to truth and decency, as they fail to see the inevitable consequences of their poor choices.