PHOENIX — On Feb. 21, Juan Carlos Rivera left his native country in search of better opportunities for his family in the United States.
The Colombian man left everything he knew for hope of a better life in the United States. He left his home country and attempted to cross the U.S. southwest border to seek asylum.
Rivera worked at his dad’s butcher shop, but in the latest years, the store’s earnings weren’t enough to provide for his wife and three kids, his brother Jhon Escudero said.
To increase his income, Rivera began driving for a ride-share company, but money was still tight, his brother said.
“Because of the financial hurdles he was facing here in our country, I suggested he should leave and go north,” Escudero said.
Rivera sold his car and bought a plane ticket across Mexico to reach the U.S.-Mexico border.
In eight days, the man said goodbye to his family and left Bogota, made stops in Cancun and Guadalajara and landed in Mexicali.
There, Escudero said a smuggler picked up Rivera and drove him to San Luis, Sonora. The family had contacted the smuggler who charged them $800 to guide Rivera to a location along the border.
Rivera updated his family of his whereabouts throughout the whole trip, sending them pictures so they knew he was okay.
“The last person he had contact with was his wife, he called her and told her he was about to cross but said his phone was low on battery,” Escudero said. “After that we never heard from him again.”
He would never make it. He died near the Arizona border.
His death is the latest incident in a record-breaking trend of migrants that have died along the way.
The brother said Rivera was left alone, about 200 feet from the border wall near a levy. There he was to jump the border fence, specifically through a part that has two fences, but he never made it across.
“What is believed is that he actually climbed one of the fences successfully, and as he was trying to cross the second fence, that’s where he lost his balance and probably fell,” said Lt. Marco Santana with the San Luis Police Department.
U.S. Customs and Border Protected found Rivera’s body on Feb. 24. The police department was contacted to arrive to the scene at 8:19 a.m. as that area is part of their jurisdiction.
Police believe Rivera hit his head and died shortly after.
The Colombian Consulate in Los Angeles notifying the family of his passing the next day.
Increase of migrant deaths at southern border
Rivera’s death is the latest in the record-breaking number of people that have died attempting to reach the United States.
In 2021, at least 650 people died migrating to the U.S. according to the International Organization for Migration, the highest number since the agency began recording deaths in 2014.
More than 200 migrants have died along the Arizona border, according to data collected by the advocacy group Humane Borders in partnership with the Pima County Medical Examiner’s Office.
“People are having to make an impossible choice, no one wants to leave their home country, most people don’t want to unless they have to,” said Katy Murdza, advocacy manager for the Immigration Justice Campaign at the American Immigration Council.
Murdza said the increase in deaths can be correlated with “failed deterrents” imposed by the U.S. Government, like the creation of the wall, Title 42, and the Remain in Mexico policy.
“These policies don’t work,” she said. “All they do is push people further and further into more remote, dangerous areas, leading to deaths and injury.”
Border Patrol responded to a record number of rescues in 2021’s fiscal year-- which runs from October to September. 12,854 people were rescued by the agency.
That number surpassed the previous four years, which is as far as the agency has tracked the data.
In 2020, the number of rescued by CBP was 5,071. The previous record was in 2019, with 5,335 rescues.
Economic hardships, natural disasters, corruption, and gang violence are the common reasons people try to seek asylum in the U.S. said Murdza.
Seeking asylum is legal, an international law. A person must be in the U.S. or at a port of entry to request the opportunity to apply for asylum.
The International Rescue Committee has said asylum seekers can’t ask for a visa or any type of authorization in advance, they just have to show up.
“People are making extremely difficult decisions between several different dangerous situations,” Murdza said. “And they [tell me] even if I have to risk my life on the train, or going through the desert, crossing a river, I still see that as better changes for me and my family than staying behind.”
That’s the same reason why, despite his pain, Escudero said, it’s worth to risk it all for the benefit of their families, than to do nothing at all.
“Nothing is going to give me my brother back,” he said. “But I do tell anyone that wants to travel that if they can, to try it, because at the end of the day that’s a decision they will make from the bottom of their heart with the sole intention of providing for their loved ones.”
The family is raising money to repatriate the Rivera’s body to Bogota, Colombia. You can help them by donating here.
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