USGSThe All-American Canal is estimated to have claimed more than 500 lives.
The U.S. Border Patrol is waiting before lifesaving buoys installed in the All-American Canal are declared a success – but in the months since the devices were put in place, nobody has died in the fast-moving waters separating Mexico and California.
In September, the Imperial Irrigation District began placing 105 lines of buoys in the All-American Canal, an 82-mile waterway that frequently claims the lives of migrants attempting to cross into the United States, as the AP reported last week.
According to the AP, the government agency is also adding 1,414 signs to the banks of the canal that read "Warning: Dangerous Water" in English and Spanish.
Border Patrol spokesman Aaron Van Zee said that since the buoys were installed, there have been no known rescue operations or drownings in the canal. He noted that border crossings typically decrease around the holidays, making it difficult to draw firm conclusions about the efficacy of the project.
"More people will likely try to start crossing soon," said Van Zee. "We'll have a better understanding of what's working as time goes by."
According to news reports, more than 500 people have died in the All-American Canal since its construction in 1942, leading some to call it the "most dangerous body of water in the United States."
The $1.1 million buoy project was approved last August by the Imperial Irrigation District, the regional authority that oversees the canal, after national media outlets drew attention to the drownings and the agency received a firestorm of criticism from the general public.
The primary catalyst appeared to be a CBS "60 Minutes" report that aired in May, in which district board member Stella Mendoza acknowledged that additional canal drownings would likely occur unless the agency installed lifesaving devices. CBS reporter Scott Pelley offered this grim assessment of the canal:
In the California desert, in a field of mud, is a graveyard that is hard to imagine in America. Bricks mark the final resting place of hundreds of human beings, identities unknown. They died traveling to America in search of a life better than their home countries could offer.
But not everyone is in favor of the buoys. Some have argued that making the canal safer will encourage illegal immigration, and that American taxpayers shouldn't have to pay for devices that aid people who are breaking the law.
Dennis Wyatt, managing editor of the Manteca Bulletin, wrote in a column that appeared Monday in his paper that "it shouldn't be a concern of local agencies that the death toll goes up" because "those who cross illegally into the United States ... are committing an illegal act." He wrote:
It is reminiscent of the State of California’s response when a cry and hue was raised over illegal immigrants getting struck by vehicles as they ran across busy freeways near the border. That prompted Caltrans to post signs of families running on freeways near the border complete with lane closures to make it safer for illegal immigrants to flee authorities.
But John Hunter, a San Diego physicist who led the push for the buoys, told "60 Minutes" that while he wasn't in favor of open borders, "I just don't believe we should be letting people drown in our backyards. It's inhuman."