msnbc News   |  May 26, 2010

Canal is deadliest crossing for illegal immigrants

More than 500 people have died trying to cross the All American Canal in the last 40 years. NBC's Janet Shamlian reports.

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>> than 4,000 people have died trying to cross the border since 1998 . each year, thousands risk capture, arrest and death for a chance to work and live in the united states . janet shamblin has the story about one of the deadliest crosses into the country.

>> the all- american canal carries water from the colorado river to san diego and the agricultural rich imperial valley . and yet this lifeline is among the deadliest bodies of water in the united states .

>> it's been drowning innocent people for the last 40 years.

>> many are illegal immigrants who lose their lives while trying to cross.

>> a person tries to climb the bank. he'll be trying and scraping to get up and he won't make any progress.

>> it's a tough sell. even by its own account, the imperial irrigation district which manages this canal has been dragging its feet.

>> i would concede that two years is too long and that at some point, you have to install the safety measures and start saving lives.

>> the district has launched a campaign to warn people of the dangers. many of those who lose their lives in the all- american canal are never identified and their families may believe that they found work in the u.s., which often they end up here. it's a paw per's cemetery in the california desert full of unmarked graves . others are known. this was our last kid.

>> stephanie martinez lost her husband, sergio .

>> i loved him very deeply. he was my soul mate .

>> stephanie and sergio , who is in the u.s. legally, had a baby and he was deported after a traffic stop the desperate to return to his family, sergio drown in the canal.

>> if you know that there is 500 human beings , no matter what they look like and they die in a canal, wouldn't you make a few buoys in there? it's not that hard to make.

>> critics say additional ladders and buoys could encourage even more people who risk their lives.

>> it's not about immigration. it's about why would you let innocent people drown?

>> it's a waterway caught in