Now that the weather is cooling off and the cool chill of fall descends over the Hilltop, I can’t help but remember the hot and unforgiving summer that punished the country from May to September. From my hometown in Laredo, Tex, I both heard about and experienced one of the hottest periods in history. One of the most tragic effects of this heat wave was the numerous deaths that occurred as a result of Mexican nationals trying to cross the Southern U.S. border into Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, and California. At what price do we accept victory? Well, for many of the Mexicans who took the risk of navigating the most unforgiving stretch of territory on the continent, they were content with risking their lives to make it to the U.S. It is amazing that people are willing to give up their very lives to merely get to the U.S. I was at ground zero of the activity back in Laredo, where the local news broadcast reports of families dying daily of dehydration and starvation as they tried to make it through the various ranches that hug the Texan/Mexican border. I worked at an oil company this past summer, outside the city on Highway 395, which offered a vantage point of the border. After being gone for a year, I forgot how hot summers in Laredo and the surrounding area can be. People walking on this territory are exposed to 100-degree temperatures as early as 12:30 in the afternoon. It stays that hot until the sun finally disappears at 8 or 8:30 p.m. Even if one can hug the small mesquite trees and shrubs, the minimal protection they provide is not enough to prevent the heat from leaving you both sunburned and dehydrated. By the end of July, the situation had deteriorated to the point where about 153 Mexicans had died in vain attempts to push from the border to Central Texas. As I read the reports and watched the newscasts, I was not at all shocked. At this point, the Border Patrol started airing commercials in Mexico to try to discourage Mexicans from taking the risk of crossing in from Ciudad Acuña or Matamoros. It suggested that émigrés would be better off poor in Mexico than dead in the U.S. I remember being skeptical about that advice. The Mexicans that decide to cross have already made up their minds because they don’t believe they can keep living in conditions they had deem unacceptable. They are willing to pay any cost to make it to a place where they conceive life to be just that much better. It seems ignorant, even condescending, to assume that it is acceptable to put up with poverty simply because one is alive. The wave of immigration, both legal and illegal, will continue regardless of the cost. Immigrants aren’t thinking in terms of what they have to lose or what is going to be taken from them. For a country that exists directly because of immigration, it is contradictory for us Americans to try to discourage others from making that leap in order to try to make life better for their families. So as the commercials played, hundreds more made the run on the border. Some made it alive, while others were either caught and sent back to Mexico or died. People did make it through the border. Still, this summer the heat made it nearly impossible for success. Some were able to break out of the immediate Laredo area and make it 60 miles inland to Cotulla, but that was as far as I remember anyone this summer making it in the daytime. At what price do we accept victory? When it is that hot and the odds are against you, all you want to do is make it for just one more hour. For the most part, most of the nation’s attention was focused in the pocket of Northeast Texas and the Dallas area, where they did experience a massive heat wave. Unfortunately, South Texas was not breaking any records. It is always that hot over there. And the numbers of those trying to cross seemed to increase in inverse proportion to the amount of times the Border Patrol announcement was shown in Mexico. You can’t send a poorly developed message to a population who is past listening and who will take chances nonetheless. I, too, wish that the numbers wouldn’t get worse. Unfortunately, the border is too big and expansive to seal completely. Large gaps of land virtually invite people to cross due to the light population density from Laredo southeast to the Rio Grande Valley and the barren deserts between El Paso and California. On August 19 I was in Baton Rouge, on the way back to D.C., as the sun set on another tumultuous summer day in the American South. I was hundreds of miles away from the border, far away from what was an emotional and intense summer for both those who crossed and those who “watched” them make their dash. These immigrants want what we have, and they are willing to make the ultimate risk to live that American Dream. Whether or not the politicians on Capitol Hill or the commentators on television news shows like to admit it, the Mexicans who took risks in the Summer of ’98 are no different than the Italians and other Europeans who sailed into Ellis Island at the beginning of the century. They are willing to sacrifice their lives in order to provide a better life for themselves and their families. As the wind blows at night in D.C. and steadily cools off, I can’t forget the oppressive heat and the mark it left in the southwest United States. 100-Degree Wind Chill appears Tuesdays in The Hoya.

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