The All-American Canal, an 82 mile aqueduct in Southern California, delivers the lifeblood of water from the Colorado River to farms in Imperial County and nine cities, including homes in San Diego. The Canal is also a death trap – it’s been termed the most dangerous body of water in the United States, with currents flowing 25 – 30 mph.
Every year thousands, mostly illegal immigrants, try to cross the canal near the U.S. – Mexican border — by swimming or floating in makeshift rafts. Since its completion in 1942, more than 550 people have drowned in its frigid swift current. Many of the names in the history of those drowned are unidentified John Does, yet the list also includes children, such as ten year old Alejandra, who died trying to rescue her sister. At least one Border Patrol agent has also drowned in the Canal. Animals, such as deer, also drown in the steep-sided canal.
Only now have measures been taken to add safety features, such as buoy lines & ladders –shamed by a recent segment on 60 Minutes. Action has been long stalled by bureaucracy, particularly that of the Imperial Irrigation District.
With increased patrols and the construction of the border fence, even more immigrants were diverted to the desert or the canal — drownings rose to a peak of 31 in 1988. Why has it taken so long to add simple safety features? The challenges are not technological — but a callous failure of will. Even the long overdue proposed actions – buoy lines every half-mile along the concrete-lined sections – are half-way measures. People will continue to die.
Let’s make a few things clear:
1) The US has a right to determine its immigration rate and to do so in a lawful manner, so taking measures to better police the border is not racist. Especially not when the US already absorbs HALF OF THE WORLD’S IMMIGRANTS. No one has a right to hurl stones at us, if we want them to enter in an orderly manner.
2) Having said that, it is simply monstrous not to want to gain border control in a manner that is humane and preserves human life. Those who leave water barrels in the desert are decent souls. Those who rush about with guns terrorizing migrant families are inhumane. We know there’s a problem with the canal. Let’s take responsibility and use American Know-How to fix it!
Twenty-three miles of the Canal were lined with concrete to limit water loss due to seepage. This has made it more dangerous. Yet this added danger was known even before the concrete was added. Ridges in the concrete were originally planned, but rejected as making the canal structurally unsound.
Of course, the lowest common denominator reveals itself in internet message boards, which abound with crass comments, “Tough Shit, they ought to quit.” We must rise to our better selves — we are, at heart, a nation that values human life. A death sentence is not the penalty for crossing the canal.
3) Who has credibility on this issue? The news media fails to point out USEFUL facts. Here’s one. Republican Presidents uniformly cut the border patrol upon entering office — using budget savings as an excuse. Reagan, both Bushes, did it. On the other hand, one of the first acts of democratic presidents is to double border patrols.
Why? Because Democrats love LEGAL immigration. They expanded it (and the GOP might make that an issue, if they really cared.) Because legal immigrants may become voters and union members. (Actually I dislike some aspects of the dems legal immigration laws. Family reunions should not be the primary basis. But at least the dems are open about it.)
4) Although I am happy to argue and negotiate about what the right mix would be, fact is we have benefited immensely from being a nation of immigrants. We’ll be a ‘young’ and vigorous nation when Europe and China and Japan are creaking.
But the real problem is this. Half of our body politic does not want to argue and negotiate. Culture War is Phase Three of the American Civil War. It is nothing less and the regions are remarkably similar to the other two phases.