Margaret Regan sees the life, death, detention and suffering of undocumented immigrants right in her front yard at Eloy, Ariz.—home to one of the largest detention centers in the United States.

“[Eloy] is hidden away in the Arizona landscape, very far from the highway, where nobody will ever see it, and most of the detention centers are like that,” Regan said. “Americans don’t generally know about them.”

At the Annual Human Rights lecture Thursday, Regan—who is an author and journalist—told the stories she encountered in Eloy, sharing the complexities, personal implications and diverse consequences of the “contentious” issue of immigration.

Regan has written two award-winning books on immigration. Her first one, released in 2010 and titled “The Death of Josseline: Immigration Stories from the Arizona-Mexico Borderlands," focused on migrant deaths in the desert. 

Regan shared that this week is the ten-year anniversary of Josseline’s death. Josseline was abandoned in the desert after falling ill near the Arizona-Mexico border after her family paid coyotes—a colloquial term for paid smugglers—$8,000 to bring her and her brother to meet their parents in the United States.

“She was a 14-year-old girl who died in the desert two hours from my house,” Regan said. “Her mom thought they were traveling with people who cared about them.”

Before 2000, migrant deaths in the desert were rare. Josseline’s body was discovered by a random hiker, but many bodies are never found.

“Now we are accustomed to [the deaths],” Regan said. “It was because of policies under the Clinton administration in which we sealed up the safe crossings primarily in San Diego and El Paso. Then forced—others would say that’s the wrong word—but I would say they were forced into dangerous deserts and mountains.”

These policies did not turn out to be the expected easy fixes, instead leading to a spike in deaths and unwavering persistence and desperation in the migrants. The United Nations analyzed this as a human rights issue, finding 7,216 deaths border-wide since around 2000. 

“In Arizona, we have found 3,209 bodies—3,209 bodies of people who died in my neighborhood right here on U.S. soil," Regan said. "It’s amazing to me how rarely [the high death toll is] discussed in the national discourse, so I wrote this whole book about the journey of the migrants.”

Regan discussed the lucrative private prison business, focusing in on detention centers where the detainees do not know when they are going to leave. Only 11 out of 250 detention centers in the United States are owned by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, she said. The conditions and stories in detention centers were grim.

She talked about a man who had spent his seventh Christmas in detention and a woman who requested to be deported after suffering panic attacks in her detention cell due to blackened windows.

Haven also taken trips to the Mexican side of the border, Regan heard the stories of a man who lost his leg after getting attacked on a train, a cafeteria set up by nuns to feed the deported people and the gangs who controlled “whole swaths of the border.” 

She pointed out that the surge in immigrants escaping violence in Latin America was in part due to the history of the United States funding regimes there, buying drugs from the cartels and selling guns to the cartels. 

Additionally, the impacts of border control laws are not just on the migrants. U.S. citizens are being legally harassed by border patrol because within 100 miles of the border, border control can stop and question at any time, she said. 

Americans' perceptions of immigrants has changed over time, Regan noted. 

“Ellis Island was a detention and deportation center," she said.

Since 9/11, immigrants have been redefined as potential terrorists. The more recent language on immigration has gone from using the term “family unification” to “chain migration,” Regan explained. She added that one measure taken to give migrant workers a chance at a work visa can lead to a path for the guest workers to get in line to be “enslaved” by their employers.

It’s a discouraging time for Regan. She said she feels that immigration policies are going backwards instead of improving.

“I don’t know the end to many of the stories,” she said.