“Most dangerous body of water in the United States”

May 7, 2010 at 8:20 am (Uncategorized)

I’ve just finished watching a video on 60 Minuets called “The Deadly Passage of the All-American Canal”, reported by Scott Pelley.  This story was pretty shocking to me, I really had no idea that a situation like this was even happening.  It turns out that hundreds of immigrants trying to cross the California border from Mexico are drowning in the newly installed All American Canal.  It is 225 feet wide, 20 feet deep, and has a current of eight feet per second.   An Olympic swimmer would have a hard time getting out of that situation.

The video opens with the scene of the California desert, and hundreds of brick gravestones surrounding the canal.  Pelley then introduces Dr. John Hunter, a Republican, who claims he is a very right-winged kind of guy.  He has been designing weapons for the American government for years, and does not at all support illegal immigration.  However, he says that we “should not let people drown in our own backyard”.  It is morally wrong for us to just let people die on our footsteps. He shows the audience the “drops” of the canal, or the dams in which they find all of the bodies.  Examples are then given of people who have died, such as a ten year old girl who was trying to help her older sister.  Hunter then shows Pelley a map of the canal and pushpins surrounding it.  He says that each pushpin represents a person who has drowned, and that there are over 550 reported cases.   

There are almost no safety devices in the canal, and there has been a long debate about trying to install more ladders in buoys.  Pelley explores the two sides of the argument.  He interviews a woman named Stephanie Martinez.  She and her Mexican husband lived the average American life, and had a young daughter.  One day, the police realized he was in the U.S illegally, and he was deported.  He attempted to get back to his wife and child, but drowned in the river in the process.  Pelley comments that many people watching the video must think that this is a terrible situation, “but he should have not have come.”  He says that what he did was illegal and wrong.  Martinez agrees and answers that she does not support illegal immigration, but that you can’t really understand the situation unless you’ve been in it.  A legality was keeping a father away from his daughter.  At first, I thought Pelley was being way too harsh on this woman, but then I realized he was going to be just as critical of the other side of the argument.

Next to interview was Stella Mendoza, who has been working with the Imperial Immigration District for nine years. This district is in charge of the canal, and has talked for years about installing safelty features, but has implemented almost nothing.   She says that adding safety features to the canal will just give immigrants a false sense of security.  The canal was intended to convey water from the Colorado River to the Imperial Valley, not for some “recreational” use.  I thought this statement was very odd and shrewd, and Pelley jumps right on her.  “We’re not talking about recreation here. We’re talking about people desperate to come into the United States and who are losing their lives in your canal.” She responds by saying that people take their life into their own hand when they try to cross it.

In 2007, there was a study done on the canal.  On one quarter of its length, escape ladders were put into place.  John Fletermeyer, who has been studying drowning for most of his life, conducted an experiment on it, and tells Pelley that the canal is “the most dangerous canal in the United States.”  Pelley asks him why, and he says that it is nearly impossible to cross due to coldness and deepness.  Fletermeyer wants the district to spend one million dollars to put in ladders every 120 feet  because he thinks it will save 75% of deaths. 

The exec board from the district said that they were going to do a test for John’s idea in December of 2009.  Pelley asks Mendoza if this ever happened, and she tells him that it did not.  One of my favorite lines that Pelley says is that “there seems to be no sense of urgency here, if you know what I mean.”  It took Mendoza off guard; she really did not know how to respond to that at all.

Pelley goes back to Hunter and asks him why we should care to save these people if what they are doing is illegal.  Hunter says that if these people were criminals, he would not care.  However, these are normal citizens with families and lives, and they should not have to die in trying to make a better life for themselves.  What is really ironic is that Hunter’s brother, Duncan, is the person who put up a fence around California’s border years prior.  That fence led the immigrants to the canal, where they are now dying.  Pelley ends his report by stating that the district is doing a test of a safety line for one year, which will cover only a small portion of the canal.  And as of right now, there is no plant to install further safety features.  Pella asks Mendoza  “So it’s not likely people are gonna stop drowning in the canal?”  She simply responds by saying “Probably.”

I think that Pelly really did a great job at covering both aspects of this story.  He was critical of the two sides of the argument, and was not afraid to dig up the dirt on Hunter and especially Mendoza and the district. 

http://photography.nationalgeographic.com/staticfiles/NGS/Shared/StaticFiles/Photography/Images/POD/a/all-american-canal-steinmetz-740948-xl.jpg

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1 Comment

  1. David Perkins said,

    Great commentary!
    DP

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