Border-crossing mobile phone application gets mixed reactions

Published On:
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
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A new GPS mobile phone application, still in its testing stages, is designed to help immigrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border illegally.

The Transborder Immigrant Tool for Nextel Motorola phones was developed by a University of California at San Diego research team.

There is no scheduled completion date, but when the application is finished, it will be preloaded onto thousands of phones that will be distributed in Mexico, one of its creators said.

UCSD professor Micha Cardenas said the tool was developed as part of a humanitarian effort to lower the number of deaths at the border.

“The fact is that millions of people are crossing,” she said. “Our goal is to provide humanitarian aid to those who need it.”

The GPS system will show its users safe places to get water, locations of major highways and even places to turn themselves in to U.S. Border Patrol if they are too weak to continue.

The development of the cell phone tool sparked controversy on both sides of the illegal immigration debate.

“People who are against immigration like to blame the problems the country has … on immigration instead of the fact that we’re spending billions of dollars on war,” Cardenas said.

Cardenas, who grew up in Miami, said she became interested in working with humanitarian organizations so he could help lower the death toll of those crossing illegally.

She blames fear, anxiety and scapegoating for the negative responses to the project.

Others, however, think the application could bring unanticipated consequences.

Business sustainability junior Kevin Brown said the development of the application may actually increase illegal immigration and crime.

“It goes both ways,” he said. “I could even see U.S. terrorist or hate groups targeting illegal immigrants [by using the application].”

Brown said the application encourages illegal immigration, and the risk isn’t worth the reward.

“They’re taking the risk themselves,” he said of those crossing the border illegally. “It’s a sad thing, but at the end of the day, they’re breaking the law.”

Humanitarian groups like No More Deaths, or No Más Muertes, disagree.

Volunteers with No Más Muertes help the humanitarian cause by bringing water, food and medical aid to the immigrant trails.

They also offer to take immigrants crossing to Border Patrol if they wish to turn around.

Global studies junior Emily Eaton, a volunteer with No Más Muertes, said she disagrees with current immigration policy and the penalty for illegal immigration should not be death.

“The plan [currently] was to stop illegal immigration by making the cross more dangerous,” she said. “My understanding is that it hasn’t decreased immigration, it’s only increased death.”

Eaton said she agrees with the intentions of the creators of the application.

Her only concern is that hate groups could get the technology and abuse it, she said.

By making immigrants go through the perilous journey of the desert, Eaton said, Americans also have the responsibility to make sure they do not perish along the way.

Reach the reporter at ndgilber@asu.edu.