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Our Opinion: Remembering the nameless

April 16, 2001

Dozens of illegal immigrants each year die in our deserts and waterways. Thousands are deported. Hundreds are injured in car accidents. But rarely do we look at these people as individuals.

The Rev. Gianantonio Baggio of St. Anthony's parish in Imperial recently led more than 100 Mexicans and Americans in a march to remember those who have died, and, equally important, those who have survived those departed souls. A Mass was staged and crosses were placed in the potter's field where 150 unidentified immigrants are buried. Each cross was labeled "no olvidado" — not forgotten.

Sometimes forgetting is exactly what people want to do. Illegal immigration will not just go away if we try really hard to forget about it. The hardships that force people to leave their homes and their families and attempt a daunting, dangerous journey north will not go away if we ignore them. Baggio is one of those leading the effort to make sure we don't forget, but there are countless others equally committed.

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Each person who dies in these deserts or the canals leaves behind a family. Most have children and parents and are looking for a better life, not just for themselves but for their loved ones. They are not just numbers in a graph, these are real people who are dying. Often we don't even know their names. And they are buried that way.

Solid steps are being taken to lessen such deaths. Water stations have been set up in the desert. Public service announcements and signs along the border warn of the dangers of crossing the border illegally, especially in the summer. The Border Patrol makes countless rescues every month. Lifelines are set to be put up across the All-American Canal.

But equally important are the efforts of Baggio and others, because while nobody wants to see someone die, many are apathetic. A total stranger dying in the desert may not be moving to some; a husband, father and dedicated provider dying in the desert who will be desperately missed, who won't see his children grow up, is somehow harder to accept, more personal.

People are dying. While we may not know their names and we may not know who they have left behind, we do know one thing.

They should not be forgotten.

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