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Border Deaths Increasing Despite 15 Years Of Operation Gatekeeper

Today marks the 15th anniversary of Operation Gatekeeper. That's the U.S. border enforcement policy that tried to discourage people from crossing the U.S.-Mexico border illegally in San Diego and pushed them east into the desert and mountains.

A memorial cross is seen in the Imperial Sand Dunes near the US-Mexico border.
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Above: A memorial cross is seen in the Imperial Sand Dunes near the US-Mexico border.

David Cruz is headed into those mountains this morning in search of his brother who tried to sneak across last year. He says his twin brother left their home state Michoacan and met his coyote, or border crossing guide, in Tecate 395 days ago.

Cruz says the group set out walking late in the afternoon on September 1, 2008.

The coyote led them through the rugged mountains east of where the border fence that was built under Operation Gatekeeper ends. Seven miles later, on the U.S. side, Cruz has been told his brother asked to rest. The group he was with left.

Cruz says his search for his brother last year was futile. He says you go from one place to another to another and you don't get information to where you feel satisfied. He says you just get mad at yourself cause you haven't solved anything.

Cruz plans to begin hiking the mountains again this morning in search of some sign.

Both supporters and critics of Operation Gatekeeper agree the policy has stemmed the flow of illegal traffic in San Diego. However, U.S. and Mexican civil liberties groups say it's come at a great human cost.

Kevin Keenan directs the American Civil Liberties Union in San Diego.

"There have been 5,000 deaths over the past 15 years as a result of our border strategy," says Keenan. "The U.S. has complete and totally authority to control its borders and migration policies."

However, Keenan wants both the U.S. and Mexican governments to recognize the deaths are a humanitarian crisis and that the border policy needs to change.

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