Margaret Regan's The Death of Josseline, and Why We Need to Get Her to Phoenix for an Author Event

Journalists are jealous creatures, something akin to Gollum in The Hobbit muttering over their stories like each is the One Ring, afraid some other journo's about to come along and swipe it. 

But in covering the area south of the Gila River for my recent cover story "Blood's Thicker Than Water," it quickly became apparent that even my tale of the humanitarians working in the desert was far too large and involved for the space allowed me. That's why I'm happy there's a book such as Tucson Weekly writer Margaret Regan's The Death of Josseline: Immigration Stories from the Arizona-Mexico Borderlands to point folks to for further reading on the same subject.

I mentioned Regan's book in my piece because it's inspiration and title come from the sad death of a 14 year-old migrant from El Salvador named Josseline Hernandez, whose demise I dwell briefly upon because her body was found by No More Deaths volunteer Dan Millis.

Two days later, Millis was cited for littering while putting out jugs of water on the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge, not too far from where Josseline's body was found. He was later convicted and given a suspended sentence, but he appealed nonetheless. On Tuesday, oral arguments in his case were heard by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

With 10 years under her belt reporting on such stories, Regan has a wealth of material to draw upon. She delves into some areas I touched on in my piece, and some areas I did not.

I particularly like her chapter on the case of the Panda Express employees arrested by Department of Public Safety officers in 2008 for working with fake Social Security numbers. The case is a joke, and particularly noteworthy because none other than Attorney General Terry Goddard's office made a big deal about it. Goddard should be ashamed of his participation in a Joe Arpaio-like raid on a business, one that targeted ordinary workers, mothers and fathers, and put them through grief for a crime anyone of us would have committed if in the same position.

"The Science of Death" is another great chapter in the book, one that discusses how the overflow of migrant bodies has taxed the Pima County morgue, which handles 90 percent of all migrant bodies from the Border Patrol's Tucson sector. Regan talks to medical examiner Dr. Bruce Parks on how migrants actually die in the desert.

"Exposure is by far the most common cause of death," Regan writes. "Josseline died of exposure in the winter, but it's the summertime heat that kills most of them. Hyperthermia is a `condition when the core temperature of the body gets to a dangerous level, 106 or 107,' Parks said.

"`When that happens, there's a failure of the body at the molecular level. The heart is beating fast. It tries to pump blood through the dilated vessels, trying to create heat loss. If the body temp continues to climb, the dying person becomes confused and disoriented, and may even hallucinate.'

"In a winter death like Josseline's, the 'body tries to keep warm. Shivering causes the muscles to work, to slide across each other to create heat. At [a body temp of] ninety degrees there's a loss of consciousness, the heart slows down as the temperature goes down. [You get] an irregular heart rhythm.' Josseline's death was not painless. `There's some element of discomfort along the way. Eventually the heart ceases to function.'" 

Regan's book has been featured on the NPR show Talk of the Nation, and she's done at least one book signing in Tucson, but my view is that we need to get her up to Phoenix for an event, where she can speak as well as sign books. Tucson is very familiar with the border issues Regan tackles, but here in Phoenix, too many are woefully ignorant of them.

That ignorance is deadly. Already, the Tucson advocacy group Derechos Humanos has announced that there have been 61 human remains recovered since October 1, 2009. That's a dramatic increase over the same time last year, when Derechos Humanos had counted 45 remains recovered. In other words, we may be in for another black summer.

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