For most of us, from the time we are children, we learn that in an emergency we should call 911. Heart attack in the airport? Call 911. Someone broke into your car in Las Vegas? Call 911. Break your arm while hiking in Maine? If you can get reception, you know what you’d do. Call 911.
But according to a new report from No More Deaths released yesterday, 911 doesn’t work if you’re a migrant. “Left to Die: Border Patrol, Search and Rescue, and the Crisis of Disappearance” shows how 911 calls placed from migrants in the desert get transferred away from local emergency response organizations and sent instead to Border Patrol. Border Patrol, a troubled agency that is often described as “rogue,” frequently leaves those migrants to die.
Based on a close study of 911 calls transferred to Border Patrol in 2015 and 2016, No More Deaths found that in 40% of those cases, Border Patrol does absolutely nothing, leaving these migrants to die in the desert. The New York Times created a visualizationof a similar study of 911 calls in Arizona.
This ‘left to die’ language is not new. In fact, hundreds and even thousands of refugees seeking safety in Europe are also left to die in the Mediterranean Sea each year. The Missing Migrants project documents migrants lost or reported dead. Refugee boats often send distress signals but are ignored. For instance, a research team at Forensic Architectures reconstructed just one example of this in 2011 in a project called “The Left to Die Boat.” That video, which I show in every class I teach, demonstrates how dozens of refugees were left floating in the sea despite calls for help, leading to the death of most of the passengers.
This all reinforces the point that borders are a life-and-death technology of sovereign power. In his book Violent Borders, geographer Reece Jones argues that borders are a powerful tool of sovereign control, where migrants are exposed to increased “chances of injury, death, or deprivation.” Migrants should not die simply because they are migrants.