Full transcript: Crossing the line at the border: Dying to get back

Need to Know
Episode 320
Airdate: May 17, 2013

ANNOUNCER [narration]: THIS IS NEED TO KNOW WITH MARIA HINOJOSA…SCOTT SIMON… RAY SUAREZ AND THIS WEEK JEFF GREENFIELD. ON THIS EDITION…MANY HAVE AMERICAN CHILDREN, HOLD AMERICAN JOBS, AND PAY AMERICAN TAXES…

PRESIDENT OBAMA: They’re looking out for their families, they’re looking out for their neighbors. They are woven into the fabric of our lives.

ANNOUNCER [narration]: BUT EVEN AS CONGRESS INCHES CLOSER TO A DEAL THAT COULD INCLUDE A PATHWAY TO CITIZENSHIP FOR ELEVEN MILLION UNDOCUMENTED WORKERS – A GROWING NUMBER OF THEM ARE STILL BEING DEPORTED – AND MANY ARE DYING WHEN THEY TRY TO RETURN.

GLADYS DOMINGUEZ:  He called us and told us when your dad was dying the only thing he was saying was ‘I don’t want to die. I don’t want to die. I want go back to my kids.’

ANNOUNCER [narration]: NEXT ON NEED TO KNOW.

JEFF GREENFIELD: Welcome to Need to Know. Thanks for joining us. You’ve probably heard that illegal immigration into the United States from Mexico has slowed dramatically in recent years. Some attribute that to better border security. Others say it’s all about jobs. There aren’t as many jobs as there used to be in the United States. Whatever the cause, the trend is unmistakable. Which makes another trend even more noteworthy. Even as illegal crossings decline, the number of deaths along the border is soaring. What’s behind that trend? This week, part 3 of Need to Know’s ongoing investigation into our border policies and procedures, done in conjunction with the Nation Institute. John Larson investigates.

DR. GREG HESS: On the remains we had some U.S. currency, this cross here is fairly distinctive.

JOHN LARSON [narration]: YOU’RE LOOKING AT THE PERSONAL BELONGINGS OF A MAN KNOWN TO THE STATE OF ARIZONA AS CASE ONE THOUSAND FIVE HUNDRED FIFTY FIVE.

DR. GREG HESS: We have a Santa Muerte here, We have a couple of necklaces

JOHN LARSON [narration]: IN THE LOCKED FILES – THOUSANDS OF ITEMS BELONGING TO HUNDREDS OF PEOPLE… ALL OF WHOM WERE FOUND DEAD.

IN MORTUARIES AND COUNTY OFFICES FROM TEXAS TO CALIFORNIA,
LAY UNIDENTIFIED REMAINS OF PEOPLE WHO CROSSED INTO THE UNITED STATES – ILLEGALLY –ONLY TO BECOME FOOTNOTES IN THE MOST LETHAL CHAPTER IN RECENT U.S. IMMIGRATION HISTORY.

DR. GREG HESS [Off-Camera]: So this is our indoor cooler.

JOHN LARSON [narration]: SILENT PARTICIPANTS IN THE NATIONAL DEBATE ON IMMIGRATION REFORM.

DR. GREG HESS: This cooler holds up to 120 remains.

JOHN LARSON [narration]: BECAUSE EVEN AS THE ADMINISTRATION SUPPORTS A POSSIBLE PATHWAY TO CITIZENSHIP FOR MANY OF THE NATION’S 11 MILLION UNDOCUMENTED IMMIGRANTS…MANY OF THOSE SAME PEOPLE ARE NOW BEING ROUNDED UP, DEPORTED IN RECORD NUMBERS, AND ARE DYING AT A HISTORIC RATE,TRYING TO GET BACK TO THEIR FAMILIES IN AMERICA.

SON AT GRAVE YARD: I just wanted to say goodbye to him I wanted to say something.

JOHN LARSON [narration]: THE PRESIDENT HAS HIT THE ROAD TO SELL IMMIGRATION REFORM TO THE PUBLIC…

PRESIDENT OBAMA: For comprehensive immigration reform to work, it must be clear from the outset that there is a pathway to citizenship.

JOHN LARSON [narration]: AND YET BY THE END OF THIS YEAR OBAMA WILL HAVE PRESIDED OVER MORE ARRESTS AND DEPORTATIONS THAN ANY AMERICAN PRESIDENT … 2 MILLION PEOPLE IN FIVE YEARS, MANY – THE SAME PEOPLE HE SAYS DESERVE TO BE CITIZENS, INCLUDING SOME WHO WIND UP HERE.

DR. GREG HESS: So this is 2012 case number 2637.

JOHN LARSON [narration]: When DR. GREG Hess was a MEDICAL EXAMINER in Milwaukee, WiscONSIN, one year he had just one, unidentified body. as MEDICAL EXAMINER HERE In pima county, Arizona, he’s had oVER TWO thousand. back In the 1990’s WHEN ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION WAS HIGH, the number of migrants dying in the ARIZONA desert was LOW, literally – just a handful.

DR. GREG HESS: But you can see here, I can almost grab with one hand the unidentified remains from the nineties. Then all of a sudden we get 2000, 2001, 2002, and all these are from the 2000s.

JOHN LARSON [narration]: What happened? why MORE THAN 2,500 MIGRANTS have now died in AZ alone SINCE THE YEAR 2000, MAY HAVE A LOT TO dO WITH a relatively recent change in US immigration policy – a change called: prevention through Deterrence which began in 1994.

THAD BINGEL: The deterrent strategy began as just a basic response to where traffic was happening, illegal activity.

JOHN LARSON [narration]: THAD BINGEL WAS THE CHIEF OF STAFF FOR U.S. CUSTOMS AND BORDER PROTECTION FROM 2007 TO 2009. HE SAYS IN THE 80S AND 90S ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS CAME IN WAVES, MOSTLY IN URBAN AREAS WITH FEW FENCES TO STOP THEM.
THAD BINGEL: At that time you literally, dozens of people– a day just you know where you could see them in groups running across the border in San Diego.  There wasn’t fence there.
JOHN LARSON [narration]: BUT THAT QUICKLY CHANGED. THE U.S. GOVERNMENT NOW PATROLS 651 MILES OF FENCE, SPENDING OVER 11 BILLION DOLLARS A YEAR ON INCREASED BORDER SECURITY. AND IN SOME WAYS – IT WORKED – FEWER PEOPLE NOW CROSS ILLEGALLY.

But the strategy was nOt just to keep people out, but to funnel those who made it across the border into the desert, INTO “MORE HOSTILE TERRAINE, LESS SUITED FOR CROSSING AND MORE SUITED FOR ENFORCEMENT”… where they might be easier to catch. As a US Border Patrol Video shown to the public in 2009 put it:

BORDER PATROL VIDEO: We now have the tactical advantage and we only need to exploit that advantage.

JOHN LARSON [narration]: While THE GOAL MAY HAVE BEEN TO MAKE IT EASIER TO CATCH ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS – it had an unintended consequence: MANY MORE OF THOSE CROSSING – ARE DYING.
CECILIA ARMENTA: The temperature is getting really bad. It’s scary.

JOHN LARSON [narration]: WE JOINED a group of volunteers, and This american mother IN A SEARCH FOR HER HUSBAND IN THE ARIZONA DESERT. HER HUSBAND WAS DEPORTED FROM THE U.S. AND WAS LOST TRYING TO RE-ENTER THE COUNTRY ILLEGALLY.

HE WAS TRAVELLING THE SO CALLED – DEVIL’S HIGHWAY – A TANGLED WEB OF TRAILS LEADING NORTH FROM MEXICO TO ARIZONA AND INTO THIS VALLEY – WHERE TEMPERATURES CAN REACH 120 DEGREES, AND THE DESERT IS FILLED WITH SNAKES, SCOPRIONS AND SMUGGLERS.

IT IS LITERALLY A VALLEY OF DEATH – THE MAP SHOWING WHERE THE BODIES OF MIGRANTS HAVE BEEN FOUND. CECILIA’S HUSBAND HAD BEEN ABANDONED BY HIS TRAVELLING COMPANIONS, AND WAS DELIRIOUS WHEN CECILIA GOT THREW TO HIM ON HIS CELL PHONE. IT WAS THE LAST TIME THEY TALKED.

CECILIA ARMENTA: And I said that I loved him and he was like I love you and the baby. It was really hard.

JOHN LARSON [narration]: TWO MONTHS AFTER THAT FINAL CALL, SHE STILL PAYS HIS CELL PHONE BILLS, HOPING HE’LL CALL AGAIN.

CECILIA ARMENTA: And I didn’t hear anything from him since.

JOHN LARSON [narration]: ON ANOTHER SEARCH, IN TEXAS, WE GOT A FIRST HAND LESSON JUST HOW QUICKLY THE DESERT MIGHT TAKE A LIFE.

HERNANDEZ: I need more water please!

JOHN LARSON [narration]: THIS WOMAN IS AN AMERICAN CITIZEN. SHE HAD BEEN SEARCHING FOR HER NEPHEW, WHO HAD DECIDED TO ENTER THE COUNTRY ILLEGALLY. DURING THE SEARCH, SHE WAS OVERCOME BY THE HEAT. DESPITE FLUIDS, AND SHADE – HER SYMPTOMS ESCALATE.

HERNANDEZ: Tiene mas agua por favor.

VOLUNTEER: Tiene que! Tiene que!

JOHN LARSON [narration]: SHE WOULD EVENTUALLY RECOVER. THE NEXT DAY HOWEVER, SHE WOULD FIND HER NEPHEW’S BODY IN A LOCAL MORGUE.

ACROSS THE SOUTHWEST, HUNDREDS OF UNIDENTIFIED MIGRANTS ARE BURIED IN LOCAL CEMETARIES, WITHOUT NAMES. OTHERS ARE BURIED IN CEMETERIES FOR THE UNKNOWN – AMONG THE QUIETEST PLACES IMAGINABLE.

ANDREW LEHREN: So what do we know about people dying on the border?

JOHN LARSON [narration]: ANDREW LEHREN, A REPORTER FOR THE NEW YORK TIMES, TEACHES GRADUATE INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALISM IN NEW YORK. AT OUR REQUEST, HIS STUDENTS SERCHED THOUSANDS OF MEXICAN AND U.S. GOVERNMENT FILES, DEATH RECORDS IN COUNTIES ALL ALONG THE BORDER, AND MADE TWO STARTLING OBSERVATIONS: ONE, THAT WHILE THE NUMBER OF ILLEGAL CROSSINGS HAS PLUMMETED – ALMOST 80% LESS THAN IN PEAK YEARS, THE NUMBER OF DEATHS HAS ACTUALLY INCREASED. MEANING THAT FOR THOSE COMING INTO THE COUNTRY, IT IS NOW MORE DEADLY – MORE LETHAL – THAN AT ANY TIME IN RECENT U.S. IMMIGRATION HISTORY.

ANDREW LEHREN: So your chances of dying crossing the border as an illegal are greater now then they were say ten years ago.

HANNAH: That’s what the data and reports seem to show.

JOHN LARSON [narration]: AND, THAT FOR YEARS THE AGE OF THOSE DYING HAS BEEN CONSTANT – THEY HAVE BEEN YOUNG – BUT FOR UNKNOWN REASONS – NOT ANY MORE.

GARRET: Ten years ago they were in their late twenties up to like maybe 30 and now the average age is more around 34.

ANDREW LEHREN: The thing we don’t know is what’s compelling people to cross the border. Particularly people getting older.

JOHN LARSON [narration]: WHAT MAY BE COMPELLING OLDER IMMIGRANTS TO RISK DEATH IN THE DESERT IS THIS: MORE AND MORE OFTEN, THEY ARE MOTHERS AND FATHERS WHO HAVE LONG HAD HOMES IN THE UNITED STATES, WITH AMERICAN CHILDREN WHO DEPEND ON THEM. WHY THE SHIFT?

SINCE 2009, THE OBAMA ADMINISTRATION HAS EXPANDED A BUSH ADMINISTRATION POLICY, EMPOWERING LOCAL POLICE TO HELP THE DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY ARREST UNDOCUMENTED WORKERS.

NAT: You’re under arrest for no driver’s license.

JOHN LARSON [narration]: CALLED ‘SECURE COMMUNITES,’ THE PROGRAM IS RESPONSIBLE FOR MANY DEPORTATIONS. BUT MOST ARRESTS WERE NOT ON THE BORDER, BUT IN THE INTERIOR –SWEEPING UP PEOPLE WHO EVEN SOME OF THE PRESIDENTS CRITICS NOW BELIEVE SHOULD BE ELIGIBLE FOR CITIZENSHIP.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO: Most of these people have been here for more than a decade. They have children that are U.S. citizens they may even own property, they work. They’re here and they’re never going to go back.

JEREMY SLACK: These are people that actually have a lot of connections to the U.S. and this has increased dramatically even over the past three or four years.

JOHN LARSON [narration]: JEREMY SLACK A DOCTORAL CANDIDATE AT THE UNIVERSITY OF ARIZONA IS THE AUTHOR OF A NEW STUDY CALLED “IN THE SHADOW OF THE WALL.” STACK AND COWORKERS INTERVIEWED 1,100 DEPORTED MIGRANTS OVER FOUR YEARS AND LEARNED THOSE CAUGHT IN ‘SECURE COMMUNITIES’ OPERATIONS MAY HAVE HELPED PUSH DEPORTATIONS TO RECORD LEVELS, BUT WERE ALSO THE MOST LIKELY DEPORTEES TO COME RIGHT BACK.

JEREMY SLACK: And so one in four people has at least one U.S. citizen child that’s under the age of eighteen. And this is largely one of the reasons why you’re seeing so many people, attempting to cross despite all the dangers, of undocumented migration.

JOHN LARSON [narration]: WHICH BEGS THE QUESTION, WHY DON’T DEPORTEES JUST STAY IN MEXICO – BRING THEIR AMERICAN FAMILIES SOUTH, AND START OVER AGAIN… IN MEXICO? SLACK SAYS SOME DO, BUT IT IS DIFFICULT, FOR PEOPLE WITH LITTLE MONEY.

JEREMY SLACK: So how do you uproot your family, get rid of all your stuff, take them out of school, move them back to a place in Mexico where you don’t necessarily know anyone, don’t have a job and don’t have any way to support them. This becomes a really difficult choice.

JOHN LARSON [narration]: NEED TO KNOW TRAVELED SOUTH TO NOGALES, A MEXICAN BORDER TOWN SOUTH OF ARIZONA – WHERE WE, FOUND DOZENS OF IMMIGRANTS FRESHLY DEPORTED FROM THE UNITED STATES. WE ASKED HOW MANY HAD FAMILIES IN AMERICA – MOST EVERYONE IN THE ROOM RAISED THEIR HAND.

LISTEN TO ALMOST ANYONE HERE – SEPARATED FROM THEIR CHILDREN IN AMERICA – AND THEY’LL TELL YOU, THEY ARE GOING BACK. LIKE LEONARDO, A CONSTRUCTION WORKER FROM NEVADA, WHO LIVED WITH HIS AMERICAN WIFE AND AMERICAN KIDS FOR TEN YEARS BEFORE BEING DEPORTED.

LEONARDO: They tell me: Daddy, I miss you. I want to see you. I love you too much. I want to see you.

JOHN LARSON [narration]: NOW, HE WILL TRY CROSSING THE DESERT, AGAIN.

LEONARDO: I don’t want my daughter growing up without me.. that’s why I put myself in danger crossing the desert

JOHN LARSON [narration]: HOW THIS PLAYS OUT, WHILE DISCUSSIONS OF IMMIGRATION REFORM CONTINUE IN WASHINGTON, CAN BE ESPECIALLY PAINFUL FOR THE AMERICAN FAMILIES, AND CHILDREN OF DEPORTEES.

GLADYS DOMINGUEZ: My mom had sent him to go get milk and, um, tortillas.

JOHN LARSON [narration]: GLADYS DOMINGUEZ, IS THE 19-YEAR OLD DAUGHTER OF ALFONSO MARTINEZ SANCHEZ , A 39 YEAR OLD FATHER OF 5 AMERICAN CHILDREN, WHO HAD LIVED IN THE U.S. FOR MORE THAN 20 YEARS. ONE DAY, ALFONSO WENT TO HIS NEIGHBORHOOD CONVENIENCE STORE IN VISTA, CALIFORNIA. A COUNTY SHERIFF’S DEPUTY ASKED FOR HIS IDENTIFICATION, ARRESTED HIM, AND TURNED HIM OVER TO FEDERAL IMMIGRATION AGENTS.

HIS WIFE JUANA ARRIVED WITH THEIR CHILDREN JUST IN TIME TO SEE HIM IN THE BACK OF A POLICE CAR, HANDCUFFED AND WEEPING.

JUANA: I think he was crying, because I brought my kids and he was looking out from inside.

JOHN LARSON [narration]: HE WAS DEPORTED TO MEXICO WHERE HE MET THIS MAN.

ISAAC: Alfonso was a little shy. He was afraid of Tijuana, to walk around alone on the street because of the police.

JOHN LARSON [narration]: ISAAC IS ALSO AN UNDOCUMENTED WORKER IN THE UNITED STATES, AND LIKE ALFONSO, WAS ALSO TRYING TO GET BACK TO HIS WIFE AND AMERICAN CHILDREN IN CALIFORNIA. THE TWO FATHERS BONDED QUICKLY, AND DECIDED TO TRY SNEAK BACK ACROSS THE BORDER TOGETHER.

JOHN LARSON: I know there’s people who must be thinking, your father’s big mistake was that he came to the country illegally. You know, if he hadn’t done that, you’d all still be together.

GLADYS DOMINGUEZ: We have nothing in Mexico. We don’t have a house, my mom and my dad have been here for over twenty years. They don’t know anyone there. We don’t know anyone there.

JOHN LARSON [narration]: WHILE THERE IS NO QUESTION THAT SNEAKING BACK INTO THE UNITED STATES IS AGAINST THE LAW, BOTH MEN WOULD BE AMONG THE UUNDOCUMENTED WORKERS CONSIDERED FOR CITIZENSHIP UNDER PENDING LEGISLATION.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: They’re looking out for their families.  They’re looking out for their neighbors.  They’re woven into the fabric of our lives.

JOHN LARSON [narration]: ALFONSO WORKED AS A BUTCHER, A LANDSCAPER, AND A CONSTRUCTION WORKER FOR NEARLY TWO DECADES, ISAAC WORKED IN THE FIELDS – BOTH WERE RAISING FAMILIES WHO DEPEND ON THEM – OVER THE NEXT FEW WEEKS, THEY TRY FOUR TIMES TO RE-ENTER THE U.S. EACH TIME, THEY ARE CAUGHT OR DETERRED BY U.S. BORDER PATROL.

WHEN THEY WERE CAUGHT THE FIRST TIME, ISAAC WAS SENT BACK TO TIJUANA. ALFONSO WAS FLOWN 1500 MILES AND RETURNED TO MEXICO. IT’S A POLICY CALLED LATERAL DEPORTATION.

THAD BINGEL: Border Patrol found that in incidents where someone was apprehended and put right back across close to where they were apprehended they almost immediately hooked up with the coyote or smuggler who had attempted to get them across and they would make repeated attempts.

JOHN LARSON [narration]: MANY OF THOSE BEING LATERALLY DEPORTED, INCLUDING ALFONSO, END UP IN MATAMOROS, MEXICO, HOME TO ONE OF MEXICO’S MOST BRUTAL CARTELS INFAMOUS FOR PREYING ON MIGRANTS – STEALING THEIR MONEY, KIDNAPPING AND KILLING THEM. IN 2010 72 MIGRANTS WERE HAULED OFF A BUS ON THE WAY TO MATAMOROS, AND MASSACRED. LATER, BODIES OF ANOTHER 200 MIGRANTS WERE FOUND BURIED IN MASS GRAVES.

JEREMY SLACK: They’ve been know to prey on migrants, on deportees, as a stream of money

JOHN LARSON [narration]: JEREMY SLACK SAYS NOT ONLY DOES LATERAL DEPORTION COST US TAX PAYERS MILLIONS OF DOLLARS A YEAR BUT IMMIGRANTS WHO ARE LATERALLY DEPORTED ARE JUST AS LIKELY TO TRY TO RETURN TO THE U.S.

THAT WAS CERTAINLY THE CASE FOR ALFONSO, WHO TOOK THE FIRST BUS OUT OF TOWN AND REJOINED ISAAC FOR ANOTHER TRY.

ISAAC: He said, Come with me! It won’t be bad, let’s go! So I said, fine, let’s go then.

JOHN LARSON [narration]: AND SO ALONG WITH 21 OTHER MIGRANTS THEY BEGIN THEIR FOURTH EFFORT TO ENTER THE U.S. ACCOMPANYING THEM IS A GUIDE – A COYOTE – PAID TO LEAD THEM THROUGH THE ARIZONA DESERT ON WHAT HE TELLS THEM WILL BE A ONE DAY, ONE NIGHT WALK.

ISAAC: We brought tuna, we brought crackers, we brought bread, things to eat, apples. and water, water more than anything else.

JOHN LARSON [narration]: THERE IS NO BORDER FENCE HERE, BECAUSE THE AMERICAN SIDE IS OWNED BY THE TOHONO O’ODHAM NATION – IT’S A NATIVE AMERICAN RESERVATION – AND SOON THE MIGRANTS CROSS THE BORDER.

HOURS INTO THEIR TRIP, THEIR GUIDE TELLS THEM AN AWFUL TRUTH – THEIR WALK IS NOT 1-2 DAYS AS PROMISED, BUT 4 OR 5 DAYS.

ISAAC: And that’s when I said to Alfonso, do you see that they lied to us? It is a lot of time.

JOHN LARSON [narration]: THE NEXT DAY THEY CLIMB IN MOUNTAINOUS COUNTRY. AT 330 IN THE AFTERNOON, THEY ENTER A BROAD, HOT VALLEY. AND ALFONSO IS STRUGGLING. THE TEMPERATURE: 115 DEGREES.

ISAAC: He said, I feel ill. And after about 5 minutes he started to feel worse. And he started to pray to God that he didn’t want to die, and he loved his children, and he loved his family, and he just started to go crazy, writhing and shouting.

JOHN LARSON [narration]: ALFONSO IS IN THE GRIPS OF HEAT STROKE — HE BEGINS CONVULSING – SO VIOLENTLY ISAAC HAS TO HOLD HIM TO KEEP HIM FROM HURTING HIMSELF. DURING THE STRUGGLE, THE GUIDE RETURNS, TAKES ALL OF THEIR FOOD AND MOST OF THEIR WATER AND THEN ABANDONS THEM.

JOHN LARSON: So you’re both being left to die.

ISAAC: Uh huh, Si.

JOHN LARSON [narration]: ALFONSO MAY NOT HAVE HAD TO BE IN THIS SITUATION AT ALL. BEFORE HE WAS DEPORTED, HE TOLD HIS WIFE IMMIGRATION AGENTS HAD PRESSURED HIM TO WAIVE HIS RIGHT TO AN IMMIGRATION HEARING – A HEARING THAT MIGHT HAVE RESULTED IN HIM BEING ALLOWED TO STAY IN THE U.S. TO SUPPORT HIS FIVE DEPENDENT CHILDREN.

JUANA: They scared him. They said that if he didn’t sign, they would keep him there for a long time.

JOHN LARSON [narration]: AS STRANGE AS THAT SOUNDS, THE ARIZONA STUDY SAYS THAT 28% OF DEPORTEES INTERVIEWED ALSO FELT FORCED OR PRESSURED TO SIGN AWAY THEIR RIGHTS.

TWO HOURS AFTER ALFONSO FALLS ILL, ISAAC BUILDS A LARGE SIGNAL FIRE TO ATTRACT THE BORDER PATROL, SO ALFONSO CAN BE SAVED BUT NO LUCK.

ISAAC: I thought about staying there with him until sunrise, but I said to myself, I have to look for help

JOHN LARSON [narration]: HE CLIMBS THE NEAREST RIDGE HOPING TO GET A CELL SIGNAL ON ALFONSO’S PHONE.

ISAAC: And I turned it on, and I implored God, and I said, My God, help him.

JOHN LARSON [narration]: HE MIRACULOUSLY GETS A SIGNAL. SOON AFTER, TWO BORDER PATROL OFFICERS ARRIVE IN A TRUCK. ISAAC SAYS HE TELLS THEM THEY MUST QUICKLY GO TOGETHER TO RESCUE ALFONSO, AND TELLS THEM EXACTLY WHERE HE IS. INSTEAD, THEY ARREST HIM AND IMMEDIATELY TAKE ISAAC TO DETENTION, ASSURING HIM THAT OTHER AGENTS WERE SEARCHING FOR ALFONSO AND WOULD RESCUE HIM.

THAD BINGEL, THE FORMER CHIEF OF STAFF OF CUSTOMS AND BORDER PROTECTION, SAYS THAT IF ISAAC’S STORY IS TRUE, THE AGENTS DID NOT ACT PROPERLY.

THAD BINGEL: It’d be very unusual if they thought the person with them– was trying to help them identify a location that they wouldn’t take advantage of that information. That would not be normal protocol.

JOHN LARSON [narration]: TWO AND A HALF DAYS AFTER ALFONSO GOT SICK, ISAAC IS DEPORTED TO MEXICO. HE IMMEDIATELY CALLS ALFONSO’S FAMILY.

GLADYS DOMINGUEZ: In my head I thought, Okay, it’s Saturday night, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, if he managed to find a tree, stay under the tree, and if he had a little bit of water, he could have stayed alive there.

JOHN LARSON [narration]: ALFONSO’S DAUGHTER GLADYS, AN AMERICAN CITIZEN, MAKES DOZENS OF FRANTIC PHONE CALLS TO THE BORDER PATROL IN ARIZONA – ASKING IF HER FATHER IS DETAINED OR IN THE HOSPITAL? SHE SAYS THE BORDER PATROL GIVES HER NO ANSWERS.

JOHN LARSON: How long was it until somebody said, Okay, here’s exactly who you need to call, maybe they can help?

GLADYS DOMINGUEZ: They didn’t say that. They didn’t say that. I, um I kept on researching on the Internet till I found BORSTAR.

JOHN LARSON [narration]: BORSTAR – THE BORDER PATROL’S SEARCH, TRAUMA AND RESCUE UNIT.

BORDER PATROL VIDEO: This is the part of US customs and border protections mission that rarely makes headlines. Rescuing those in trouble along our southern border.

JOHN LARSON [narration]: ITS MISSION, TO “PROVIDE LIFE SAVING AID” TO THE “DISTRESSED… MIGRANTS ALONG THE BORDER.”

THAD BINGEL: It’s pretty rare for a law enforcement agency to basically create a rescue unit just to deal with people who are basically engaged in illegal activity, crossing the border– in a humanitarian way.

JOHN LARSON [narration]: SO GLADYS CALLS BORSTAR, AND TELLS THEM HER FATHER IS DYING IN THE DESERT.

BUT GLADYS SAYS WHEN SHE CALLED, SHE WAS PUT ON HOLD, TRANSFERRED, OR TOLD TO TALK TO SOMEONE ELSE.

FINALLY, FOUR AND A HALF DAYS AFTER ALFONSO FELL ILL, THE BORDER PATROL MEETS ISAAC AT THE BORDER AND TAKES HIM TO RESCUE HIS FRIEND IN THE DESERT. ONCE THEY ARRIVE IN THE AREA, AND START WALKING, IT TAKES JUST 45 MINUTES TO LOCATE ALFONSO.

ISAAC: It was the hardest thing for me because… of how I left him and how I found him…

JOHN LARSON [narration]: ALFONSO’S WAS LATER IDENTIFIED BY HIS DENTAL RECORDS AND PERSONAL ITEMS … HIS JACKET… WATCH… KEY CHAIN… ALL WOUND UP AS EXHIBITS IN THAT PIMA COUNTRY MORGUE. HIS BODY WAS FOUND EXACTLY WHERE ISAAC HAD LEFT HIM, EXACTLY WHERE HE SAYS HE HAD TOLD BORDER PATROL AGENTS ALMOST 5 DAYS EARLIER TO SEARCH FOR HIM.

JOHN LARSON: I have the toughest question for you. Do you ever think about those last hours of what must have been going through his mind?

GLADYS DOMINGUEZ: Every day. I think about it every day.

JOHN LARSON:  What do you think he was thinking?

GLADYS DOMINGUEZ:  Because the last thing…Isaac called us and he told us, when your dad was dying the only thing he was saying was “I don’t want to die. I don’t want to die. I want to get back to my kids. I wanna make it with my kids. I have to make it with my kids. I need to get back. And I just imagine him all by himself in the freaking desert, just laying there.

JOHN LARSON [narration]: ISAAC SAYS HE’S CONVINCED THAT BORDER PARTOL NEVER BOTHERED LOOKING FOR ALFONSO THAT FIRST NIGHT, OR EVER.

JOHN LARSON: They might say, listen, it’s a huge desert. It was in the middle of the night. We were looking for him. But we just didn’t find him.

ISAAC: No the truth, I think is that they didn’t look for him. I think they just left him there.

JOHN LARSON: And what about all the people in the United States who would say, if you and Alfonso had just stayed in Mexico, he’d still be alive tonight.

ISAAC: We came to work, we didn’t come to take anything. We came to struggle to make a life.

JOHN LARSON [narration]: WE ASKED THE BORER PATROL WHAT HAPPENED THAT NIGHT – FOR TAPES OF ISAAC’S 911 CALL, FOR ANY DETAILS OF THEIR SEARCH FOR ALFONSO. THEY HAVE SO FAR, OFFERED NO INFORMATION. BUT THAD BINGEL SAYS THAT BORDER PATROL IS NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR ALFONSO’S DEATH AND OTHERS LIKE HIS.

THAD BINGEL: I put the blame for putting people at risk of death largely on the criminal organizations on the south side who are– are deceiving people into thinking oh, you just have to walk, you know, a couple miles and you’ll hit the road when really they’re talking 20 miles– or more in really, really hostile conditions.

JOHN LARSON [narration]: ALFONSO’S FAMILY GATHERED AT HIS GRAVE LAST MONTH FOR THE ONE YEAR ANNIVERSARY OF HIS DEATH. HIS 15 YEAR-OLD SON IS HAVING PERHAPS THE MOST DIFFICULT TIME, AND HAS TAKEN TO PUNCHING HOLES IN WALLS OF THE FAMILIES APARTMENT…

ALFONSO’S SON: I just wanted to say goodbye to him I wanted to say something I couldn’t.

JOHN LARSON [narration]: IN THE END, ONE FATHER, WHO MIGHT HAVE HAD A PATHWAY TO AMERICAN CITIZENSHIP, IS NOW DEAD. THE OTHER CROSSED ILLEGALLY INTO THE UNITED STATES A FIFTH TIME, REJOINED HIS CHILDREN AND NOW LABORS AS A CALIFORNIA FARMWORKER AS HE HAS FOR DECADES, YOU GET THE SENSE FOR THESE TWO AND THOUSANDS LIKE THEM, NO WALL WOULD HAVE BEEN HIGH ENOUGH, NO DESERT – TOO FORBIDDING.

GLADYS DOMINGUEZ: It doesn’t matter the dangers that they’re willing to face the dangers just to be with their family. Because nothing to him was more important than being with us.

JEFF GREENFIELD: That’s it for this edition of Need to Know. I’m Jeff Greenfield. Thanks for watching.

 
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