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Crossing the line at the border: Dying to get back

While the number of illegal crossings at the border has plummeted dramatically — roughly half the number than during peak years — just as many people are dying. Meaning for those coming into the country illegally, it is now more deadly, more lethal, than at any time in recent U.S. immigration history.

For years the age of those dying has been constant — they have been young  — but today, these statistics are changing. According to two recent studies, 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.

Source: Humane Borders

Read the full transcript here.

This week:

Searching for answers

An extended interview with Gladys Dominguez, the 19-year-old daughter of Alfonso Martinez Sanchez. Her father died attempting to re-enter to the U.S. through Arizona’s state border desert.

Voices of mixed-status families

Cindy Huang of PBS NewsHour spoke with five families struggling with the realities of U.S. immigration law.

Report on new Border Patrol tactics

The Congressional Research Service has just released a report evaluating several tactics used by the U.S. Border Patrol including lateral deportation — a tactic used to discourage re-entry by deportees. KPBS reports.

Catch up on Need to Know’s award-winning Border Patrol series:

Crossing the line at the border, part 1

The show’s first report on the subject aired in April and sparked a federal grand jury probe. In partnership with the Investigative Fund of the Nation Institute, Need to Know investigates whether U.S. border agents have been using excessive force in an effort to curb illegal immigration.

Crossing the line at the border, part 1 update

One week after our initial broadcast, we took another look at the story of Anastasio Hernandez Rojas. Plus, an interview with Democratic Congressman Raul Grijalva, who tells us that members of congress have inquired about his case before, but had heard nothing from the Justice Department.

Crossing the line at the border, part 2

On Friday, July 20, Need to Know aired the second part of our investigation into alleged abuses by U.S. Border Patrol agents. Correspondent John Larson investigates stories of physical abuse, sexual assault and even torture.

Read: Renewed call for inquiry into border abuses


Web extra: Interview with Andrea Guerrero

Need to Know’s report on the circumstances surrounding the death of Anastasio Hernandez Rojas, an undocumented worker living in San Diego, has led to a federal grand jury probe.

PDF: Members of Congress demand investigation

Watch more full episodes of Need to Know.

  • thumb
    Down in the Salinas Valley
    As the debate over immigration reform continues in Washington D.C., Need to Know offers an inside look at the lives of Latino farm workers.
  • thumb
      Searching for answers
    19-year-old Gladys Dominguez shares her search for information about her father who was lost crossing Arizona state's border desert.
  • thumb
    The significance of May Day
    On May 1, 1886, approximately 35,000 workers walked off their jobs, demanding the standardization of eight-hour workdays.


  • MBS100k

    It really upsets me that you try to make Americans feel sorry for criminals stealing into our country, regardless of how long they’ve gotten away with being criminals in our country. I applaud our president for doing what others wouldn’t. KEEPING ILLEGALS OUT. And if they die trying steal into our nation, that’s their decision, and suffer consequences. Would we feel bad for murderers or rapists who got away for 20 years. Then why feel bad for criminals that come here and start families. Then to keep coming back, and die in the desert. We didn’t tell them to come back. In fact, we didn’t tell them to STEAL their way into this country in the first place. Their criminals, and should be treated as such. Those who do steal into the US, have no respect for country or public, they refuse to learn our language, or assimilate to the US. They want to be Mexicans in America, not Americans in America. They cost us trillions in their crime, welfare, medical, etc. DON’T ASK AMERICA TO FEEL SORRY FOR CRIMINALS

  • Anonymous

    This is outcome of playing border games
    rather than having coherent policies that make being in the U.S. in
    violation of the law much less attractive. It makes no sense to make all these
    efforts to keep people from entering illegally while making sure they
    will be amply rewarded for being in the country illegally once the evade those defenses.

  • One Person

    I noticed that you failed to mention that the Native American NATION whose land they cross has to pay Ten Million a year to clean up the mess that is left by illegals.But you don’t really expect me to believe that you care about Indians do you?

    Now US bank has decided to market Hispanics as they have been doing for months now. After seeing a program on KQED about the fact that “we have not seen any special marketing of Hispanics in California” I beg to differ. US Bank has Loads of pictures Hispanics on theBank Posters. All are of light skinned Hispanics but no pictures of Dark Skinned Hispanics; no Dark Skinned African Americans, No White people and no Asians in there Posters. Oh yes, they did change that and added an Asian person pictured with Spanish words on that poster! Why have they been allowed to do this? Because the Vietnamese in San Jose do it! Give a Mexican a way and they will take it and TAKE Advantage is the word because that is what they do.They do not Respect anyone. There are not Thirty Million Illegal Vietnamese here are there? The Children in the Pajaro Valley have the some of the lowest rate of English skills in CA because all the children hear is Spanish. They speak it in Safeway, Big Lots; Rite Aid; Kmart; Walgreens;Ross etc. Shopping, banking, at home is Spanish. Why bother to learn English. All I hear from the Hispanic Parents is how the Teachers have failed or they need new schools!!I I do not like the way they have gone about this “immigation” coming over here illegally, dropping a babies to gain. They way they have gone about it has no ethics; no integrity.

  • OCTheo

    The irony for this man’s family, is that with his death, the government will end up spending thousands of dollars over many years to support his children.
    The 5 children are American citizens, and they are eligible for every social benefits available to needy kids in this country. Now the society will spend, instead of collecting taxes from him.

    If the father had not been deported, to his eventual demise, he would have continued working and provide for his family. The emotional and psychological effects of his death, to his children, can not be quantified or forecasted.

    The welfare of children with illegal parents, should be the main deciding factors, when ICE is dealing with illegal aliens. The families are torn apart. And the children, out of no fault of their own, are scared for life. Is this the family value that America shouts about every day in the media?

  • OCTheo

    You need to get a life. This is not about what language is spoken in California. Language is a means of communication, not a means to live. Learn another language, it will help you get the nonsense out of your head. It will even help you get a better job. And perhaps, when you learn to speak another language, you may begin to have a feeling to the suffering of others.

    Caring, is a virtue, worth practicing.

  • A. Gray

    Our biggest problem now is overpopulation. Without immigration, our country’s population would be stable or even falling. A shrinking population is what we need to become greener in this world. So what we need is: “immigration pushback”. If Mexico will not solve their overpopulation problem and create a decent life for their own citizens, then they need to “wallow in their own overpopulation pressure” with no “pressure relief valves”. This is the negative feedback that is required to get something done. Mexico needs to do something itself about their harsh living conditions. I understand the “moral argument” about letting immigrants into the U.S. However, this argument is no longer relevant. The U.S. needs to reduce its carbon footprint, and it just is not the right thing to do to let limitless immigrants come and join our own unethical carbon frenzy. If we are going to get our population growth under control and start to reduce our carbon footprint, we need to just say NO to immigration. No immigration allowed to increase our population!
    A. Gray

  • A. Gray

    Every penny spent is worth it to increase the deterrence effect. If rumors spread that you will be deported, then try and die while crossing the Arizona desert, then this sends the message, “do not come”. Apparently, this strategy is working, as we have had an 80% reduction in border crossings. I say, keep up the good work, and eventually, only the FEW that are allowed legally will come. And I emphasize the word FEW.

    I understand your moral arguments, and on their face, they seem logical. But no more. Overpopulation pressure needs pushback. Mexico is overpopulated for the number of people that it can support, so the U.S. is acting like pressure relief valve. If we close tightly this valve, then the vessel will “explode”. This is the negative feedback that we need to get Mexico to do something about its own population problem. In other words, “Mexico, either do something or you will have to wallow in it”.

    One thing that really needs to be said here, that most will not say (and I am going to say it). The Hispanic tradition of having large families is now officially evil. We live in a world of 7,000,000,000 people. Global warming is going to wipe out the “breeding grounds” of billions of human breeders. We are in the midst of a third mass extinction. The oceans’ fish population has been decimated (down by 80%!). We need not ONE extra person on this Earth. 7,000,000,000 is enough! A. Gray

  • A. Gray

    Agreed, but try and pass any employer penalty laws when companies make such a huge profit exploiting these workers. Walk around a subdivision under construction in Texas, and you will usually not see one worker who speaks English. It is much easier (& more profitable) to hire immigrants than to mess with American workers’ liability insurance, workman’s comp, Obama-care, social security, medicare, overtime, etc., not to mention their bad health, woosy constitution, and questionable work ethic. I understand this frustration, as I do not hire American workers anymore either (I just do everything myself now). So I am agreed that we should have employer penalty laws, but we need to make the American worker more attractive at the same time. A. Gray

  • A. Gray

    I would not go this far. Of course everyone wants a better life, and wants to have opportunity. One cannot blame them if the opportunity is there. So if it is likely that if they can enter the U.S. and have a better life, I understand, they will enter to U.S. to have a better life. However, we do need to stop them. We need to have severe consequences for trying. If the word gets out that it is deadly for wimpy people to cross the Arizona desert, then wimpy people will not cross the Arizona desert (and illegal immigration goes down). I think this immigration pushback is good policy. Another thing that I will say that no one else dares to say is that “we need to consider sterilization in exchange for legal immigration!” 7,000,000,000 people on this Earth is enough. A. Gray

  • A. Custer

    Who are the “illegals” stealing from upon crossing a border? When Canadians are living in Canada, are they being Canadians in America?When I travel to Canada, do I cease to be an American in America?

    How is knowledge of the Navajo language? I have noticed that you have written everything in English, which may seem odd to some people also living here in America. In your opinion, what is the best way to make those savages learn our proud English language in our country when they are on those (way too large, we need more national park land, I think everyone can agree) reservations? That’s where assimilation needs to start, am I right?

  • jon chavarria

    Death-row inmates also have children, but you wouldn’t care if they died trying to get back to them. I don’t care how long an illegal has been violating and taking advantage of our system,They are breaking the law. To bad they die breaking it again. I agree with the statement that if it’s so deadly, they will stop coming!

  • OCTheo

    Where you’re born, and whom your parents are, is but a genetic accident. It has nothing to do with you. Don’t hate on those who are different from you. Wether you are born in the USA, or came here legally, started thousands of years before you emerged on earth. It is nature taking its course. It is not of your doing, in any way or form.

    National boundaries are not natural, they are man-made for political reasons. Because a certain culture is different, does not make the people evil. The world is not in lack of supporting its population. It is because the people in charge are unwilling to share the resources; the reason why some earn $millions, while others are homeless.

    The problem of Mexican migrant workers has been exacerbated in the last 20 years by the US conniving with the Mexican elite, to export US subsidized agricultural products like corn into Mexico. This continued practice has wiped out indigenous Mexican farmers source of income. They had to leave their villages to seek for work in the US. No one wants to leave their family in Mexico or other Central American countries, to labor in the scorching California sun, picking crops. It is out of desperation to support their families; desperation brought about by the US government. If the US will sell its agricultural products at market prize, less will end up in Mexican. If less is dumped into Mexican market, more Mexicans will stay in their village and work in their own farms as their ancestors have done for centuries. Sending Iowa corn at a low price to Mexico, is the reason for the problem. Corn is the main staple in Mexico, and number one agricultural product. When you destroy that, you destroy the population that it had supported for centuries. The US destroyed Mexican corn farming. Mexican farmers coming to border States is a blowback for the policy.

    The rich, blonde, blue-eyed Mexicans drive into the US everyday and go back home. It is the poor indigenous Mexicans that are being chased around like animals, to their deaths.

  • Audrey

    I had cried watching the whole interview and it’s just so sad what this family has to go through. It sickens me and I want to just hold every single one of those family members and his children. I am obviously on Facebook you can find me under Audrey Ann Beck from Rockledge, Florida…….I agree with you more then a hundred percent

  • ray

    Too often I hear what a Christian country the U.S. is and how important family values are. Apparently that only applies to U.S. citizens if they are Hispanic it’s fine not to give a damn. How border agents can be so cruel and callous and do nothing to save a fellow human being would lead me to call the U.S. more of a hypocrite nation than a compassionate one.These are poor people who obviously will do anything no matter how dangerous to at least try to give their children a better life. Maybe the U.S. should stop telling the world how Christian and morale they are and actually start walking the walk as opposed to just talking. Because words without action mean absolutely nothing.

  • itsjustme

    Seems to me the entire illegal immigration problems can be solved. Do not come here illegally!
    I can take the theme of this story into other criminals. He was just stealing to feed his children, he is poor. We should not prosecute this CRIMINAL either.

  • mary lopez

    Death row? Do you understand why they are on death row? Your comment about this issue is so irrelevant. Doesn’t make sense at all.

  • mary lopez

    I too cried…heart breaking.

  • Audrey

    I had posted it on my Facebook and I was so angry I had just went off everyone read it and was stunned

  • Anonymous

    Need to know’s attitude infuriates me. Your point of view is that its not their fault its all our fault. We put up fences around San Diego and forced them to be funneled to cross in the hostile desert. Well what about them deciding not to come here in the first place. What about them fixing their own country so they won’t need to want to come here. Is that our fault too? They have tons of oil and other resources and a tropical paradise in some places. Some of these people in NYC think the rest of the country should be follow their attitude. They ought to live in the Southwest for a while and see what is really going on. Guess what, crossing our border can be hazardous to your health. This guy broke into our country and deposited 5 kids here to be a burden on us.

    I believe if the opportunity to exploit others was never there we would have been forced to structure our workplaces where any job could be more desirable and US workers would want them. Also, some farm harvesting machines were developed years ago and are not being used. Manufacturing new harvesting machines could be a whole new industry.

  • Anonymous

    That’s exactly right. They need to solve their own problems south of the border.

  • Anonymous

    We’ve got millions of people in this country who have lost their homes. People sleeping in shelters, old school buses, abandoned buildings. More people on food stamps than ever before. You think these people wouldn’t rather take a job if there were any? We are borrowing 40%. THAT’S 40%!!! 40% OF EVERY $ from foreign countries. These illegals are citizens of another country. Why doesn’t their country take care of them?

  • Anonymous

    Hey, who’s fault is that? If they didn’t buy our corn there would be no problem. I hear this Iowa corn is absolute crap anyway especially for human consumption. Its tasteless and has little nutritional value. Its for fattening cattle as quickly as possible and making ethanol-almost total starch. .

  • Anonymous

    WHAT? They come here illegally, really have no right to anything here and are telling us to learn THEIR language? Push is going to turn to shove one day.

  • Anonymous

    What is particularly sad about this is that Barack Bush (or G.W. Obama) is doing all he can to provide as many lures for as many people as possible to come here, and then humorously calls legalizing illegals and significantly increasing legal immigration “comprehensive reform.” He does this to get corporation money and the votes of those supporting a changing demographic with no attention given to the unsustainable impacts millions now have on our already unsolveable “growth” problems, whether it involves congested highways or depletion of potable water and increased pollution of water and air.

  • Anonymous

    Because they are part of overpopulated, depleted farmland, denuded and polluted oceans and waterway, corrupt and unsustainable countries, and their presence here is adding fuel to our journey to the same unsustainability.

  • Anonymous

    Need to Know is right but for the wrong reasons. They come because we make a mockery of enforcing the law against illegal immigration, and our economic/political system does everything it can to encourage more to come because it exists on belief that unlimited growth is possible, and immigrants allow for the rich to get richer because cheap (or leveraged) labor brings more profits to them.

  • Anonymous

    The border patrol is hired to enforce the country’s laws. But the country is adding laws or internally not enforcing them making the border patrol’s job often time absurd. And being “Christian” might also mean being concerned about what threatens the sustainability of your society.

  • Anonymous

    Mr. Gray: you are so right. The moral argument was right about 70 years ago when the population of this country and world were half what it is now. Bacteria growing in a petrie dish are still comfortable when half full but die off when the dish is full. We are very close to the full point now, and the indicators of that are so numerous it is a wonder only a few seem to fully understand this.

  • Anonymous

    It’s about 7.4 billion now.

  • Anonymous

    Please try to differentiate between your conditioned-reflex penchant to see “hate” and “facts.” But the latter does require research.

  • k5r4

    It isn’t just Obama. So are the repubs & dems in congress. The repubs want this amnesty legislation to become law because the repubs lost the popular vote in the last 3 presidential elections. The repubs think that if all of these illegal aliens become legalized that they will help the repubs keep control of the house and regain control of the senate & White House. The dems want this amnesty legislation to become law because the dems think if all these illegal aliens become legalized they will help the dems regain control of the house and keep control of the senate & White House.

  • k5r4

    You are wrong. The children who are American citizens can stay with their legalized relatives or return to Mexico with their illegal alien parents. The parents can apply to immigrate to this country legally & wait their turn like everyone else. What you are advocating is rewarding lawbreakers.

  • Sherrie

    What is meant by giving undocumented “the path to residency or citizenship. Becoming a citizen -even when done legally- is not cheap or easy.

  • MC

    Do you think that what we do now, is take care of them? Shame on you!

  • martfil

    you there’s millions of us that work with a fake social security number and every year we pay taxes we pay social security we pay state taxes federal taxes we pay medicaid just like all of you but we don”t get medicaid care we don’t get disability if one of us get hurt at work we juste get fire with out compesation with out medical care,, and if there is people living in poverty is cause they DON’T WANT WORK,,, us we work for 60 dollars a day instead of just sitting and hoping that one day somebody will hire us to do nothing and make more then a hundred dollars a day,,,, and no our goverments do create jobs in our places


    A. Gray, you should start the steralization process with youre’self.EVIL BASTERD!!!!!

  • Anonymous

    When businesses hire an employee they are “stuck” with that employee even if they don’t perform well. The employee may not be terrible but there is an opportunity cost of not having someone who would have performed better! When an illegal takes the place of a better qualified legal immigrant the country pays a price for at least a generation!

  • Anonymous

    Shoot every living thing coming towards the border in a border DMZ.

  • Sarah

    Americans basing opinions on misinformation, gossip, and racist beliefs. They cannot see a bigger picture of profit of our prison and border patrol system. Wouldnt it be nice if we could be objective and fair. What an inspired idea.

  • Against Ignorance

    HAAHAHA , you can’t do anything about us AMERICAN CITIZENS born of undocumented immigrants. I laugh because it angers people like you to see this happening. If you only knew how the world is other then the US, then you would see why they want to be here. SHAME ON YOU for being ignorant. SHAME ON YOU: Start getting out of that little bubble you live in, and be a human being. Even the documentary explains why they don’t want to go back to those countries. How about you go to another country you know nothing about and start a new life there? Try being an Immigrant! Try being treated as an Immigrant then a Human Being. Then Judge…Then Judge.

  • Against Ignorance

    No, you stop calling these people who are GOOD criminals. These people work and have kids that are american citizens, and yes they do pay taxes, they work hard, and influence communities all over the nation. Some of them don’t even qualify for those things you say they steal. Shame on people like you. You are no human being…you are just a racist ignorant American….and DID YOU KNOW THIS FREAKING COUNTRY IS MADE UP OF IMMIGRANTS. JUST BECAUSE YOU’RE FUCKING WHITE DOESN’T MAKE YOU SUPERIOR, I THOUGHT THAT WAS SOMETHING THAT YOU LEARN EVER SINCE DISCRIMINATION WAS SEEN AS BAD. STOP HATING, IT IS NOT LIKE THE INFLUENCE YOU, IF THIS WASN’T EVEN MENTIONED YOU WOULDNT EVEN NOTICE.

  • Against Ignorance


  • Lester

    I believe illegal immigrants in the USA should not be complaining when they get arrested and deported when they are driving without a drivers license or commit a crime. Countries have rules and people should follow them. I feel sorry for families that are suffering but in the world there are laws that need to be followed in order to have a civilize society. Also, why are illegal immigrants having so many kids? is it necessary to have five kids now a days when population is a bit too much. I am not a racist or white supremacist but even a white family having five kids is too much now a days.

  • Anonymous

    So, I’m not totally familiar with all the laws concerning this. My question, if anyone can answer it, is why don’t these people have green cards and be documented immigrants? Not become citizens necessarily, but just be here legally? Several of the men that were mentioned in the video had wives who were citizens. I was under the impression that if you had a spouse that was a citizen, you could apply for a green card.

  • Leesa Castillo

    That isn’t true keelera. I wish, then my husband would be able to get his green card. It doesn’t work that way. They have to return to the country of origin, to apply. Sometime they are only there for a year, most of the time a lot longer. For the guy who said it is the fault of American women, who marry them. We just like everyone else are not responsible for who we fall in love with.

  • Leesa Castillo

    Just applied for my husband to become a legal resident. $6,500. for a retainer to the attorney and $500. a month. Hopefully for only a year, that doesn’t include fee to file papers with ICE. 480. for alian relative, 130 for another 275. for another. PLUS a fine for not being documented, usually between $3,000 and 5,000. He still will have to return to Mexico ( probably for 1 year) we are not sure how long. But my children are afraid for him to leave.

  • Leesa Castillo

    They pay taxes here stupid

  • Leesa Castillo


  • Leesa Castillo

    You are such a jerk!!!!