Eight migrants were found dead last week in the California desert near the Salton Sea, bringing to at least 67 the number of such deaths near the border this year. Some of the 67 drowned, some died from heat, but blame also falls on the human coyotes, the men who promise to deliver immigrants to the cities of Southern California, the land of jobs and wages.
The Immigration and Naturalization Service, in cooperation with the Mexican government, has to its credit launched an aggressive public information campaign to warn of the dangers involved in crossing the Mexico-U.S. border illegally. They have placed warning signs at particularly risky points, handed out fliers in border towns and run TV and radio spots.
The INS has made progress with a computer system that tracks the busiest of the coyotes. With the data from the new system, and the cooperation of Mexican authorities, the Border Patrol should be able to compile better files on these criminals--information that later will help convict them in a court of law.
The agency has also stepped up its search- and-rescue operations in hazardous areas that are seeing more traffic in the wake of better border enforcement near cities. In addition, there is a concerted effort to identify the bodies of victims and notify their families.
The key to the problem is stopping the coyotes, the smugglers who too often do not care whether their clients live or die. Not enough of them are caught. Yes, there has been progress in prevention and policing, but not enough. To say, as too many officials on both sides of the border do, that smugglers run a sophisticated business that is difficult to dismantle is not a satisfactory answer.
Why not a binational undercover "sting" effort? Why not apply the stiff penalties, up to life in prison and even the death penalty, that are allowed by recently passed U.S. laws? For too long the cost of conviction to a coyote was minimal--a little time in prison, a fine.
As long as there is demand from factories and families for cheap immigrant labor, the lure of America will remain. But the human cost of seeking these jobs should be diminished.