Mexico plans to issue survival kits to border crossers : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

I don't want to see any people die, but isn't this encouraging direct violation of U.S law?

Mexico plans to issue survival kits to border crossers

Staff and wire reports

The Desert Sun

May 18th, 2001


If it can’t stop emigration to the United States, the Mexican government thinks at least its people shouldn’t die in the process.

So starting next month, the government will distribute up to 200,000 survival kits to people planning to head north.

The kits will contain medicine and information to prepare emigrants for what they face on the trip, which usually includes a trek through the remote deserts and mountains of Arizona or California because of increased U.S. border security.

The packets will include anti-diarrhea medicine, adhesive bandages, aspirin, acetaminophen, medicine for snake and scorpion bites, powder to prevent dehydration, water, salt and food.

Women will receive 25 birth-control pills, men 25 condoms. AIDS is a small but growing problem in rural Mexico. It is spread mostly by men who contract the virus in the United States.

The program will train hundreds of volunteers in first aid and emergency health care. The volunteers will be given surgery soap, sutures for sewing wounds, thermometers, gauze, cotton and other implements to attend to migrants’ medical problems.

The $2 million program, known as "Vete Sano, Regresa Sano" (Leave Healthy, Return Healthy), will begin June 15. It is funded by the Mexican government, which also is seeking funding from the California Endowment, a Woodland Hills-based health foundation.

The endowment has set aside $50 million for programs that improve the health of California farmworkers, part of that to be used in conjunction with the Mexican government.

Officials from the endowment and the Mexican government met this week in San Diego. Even without the endowment’s support, the program will proceed but on a smaller scale, Mexican officials said. Training for volunteers is already under way.

Critics said the program will encourage illegal immigration, not just save lives.

"I really don’t think this will help because you can only really carry water on the long trip," said 19-year-old Mecca resident Mario Ruiz, who crossed the border several years ago. "And I don’t think the smugglers would let us keep the care packages anyway. It might be better if they left the packages in the desert along paths the immigrants use."

Among other things, the program will include tips on maintaining self-esteem and on Asian meditation techniques to combat depression, stress and anxiety.

"Those who’ve gone to the U.S. have told us of their experiences. This is what they’ve told us they need," said Dr. Angel Flores, chief of community action for the Mexican Institute of Social Security, which has a network of 3,000 rural health workers who will distribute the kits.

Deaths: Last year, at least 490 Mexicans died crossing the 1,952-mile border, according to the Mexican government. So far this year, emigrants crossing the border have been dying at a rate of about one a day, though officials say the toll rises in the summer.

In the Imperial and Riverside county deserts, 38 migrants have died since October, agents said. In 2000, there were 77 deaths reported, agents said.

Gloria Chavez, spokeswoman for the San Diego sector of the U.S. Border Patrol, said that, while she was not familiar with the survival-kit plan, it sounds like a good idea. Since 1998, she said, U.S. Border Patrol agents have carried energy drinks, blankets and other emergency supplies to treat such ailments as dehydration and hypothermia among the border crossers.

"Our mission is to prevent deaths," Chavez said.

U.S. Border Patrol agent Manny Figueroa, who works out of Calexico, agreed.

"We feel too many people are dying and if Mexico is taking steps to diminish that, it’s encouraging news."

The packets and health workshops are to be presented to 369 of Mexico’s poorest municipalities, mostly in Oaxaca, Michoacan, Zacatecas and Jalisco states.

Controversy: A committee of doctors and health workers formed by the government’s newly established Office for Mexicans Abroad came up with the idea. Director Juan Hernandez acknowledged the kit might appear to encourage illegal immigration and thus be controversial.

"We’re not going to close our eyes," he said. "We have individuals with needs, and they are dying at the border."

The survival kits have never been tried before. The biggest obstacle to their success could be the people they’re intended to help.

"This could help avoid many deaths. But if you ask emigrants, 70 percent of them don’t see any risks," said Jorge Santibanez, president of El Colegio de la Frontera Norte, a state university in Tijuana, who helped design the program.

The survival packets are the most obvious sign yet of a change in attitude under the administration of President Vicente Fox.

"It reflects a reality that has rarely been reflected officially," Santibanez said. "Mexico avoided actions that could appear to be helping migrants leave. There was a kind of self-censorship: ‘What will the U.S. say if we look like we’re helping them leave?’ This self-censorship has disappeared. This is very positive."

-- PHO (, May 18, 2001

Moderation questions? read the FAQ