Although immigration to Arizona has dropped over the past four years, the number of migrants found dead along the state’s Southern border has not significantly decreased. And new data shows that the number of migrant deaths may be in fact increasing along certain stretches of the U.S-Mexico border.
According to a recently released report from the Pima County Office of the Medical Examiner, since 1990, more than 2,000 immigrants have died along the Arizona-Sonora border. Last year, there were a recorded 157 migrant deaths, down from a peak of 225 in 2010, but still hovering near the average for the past decade (182 deaths per year).
The report states that over the past several years, the number of immigrant deaths per 100,000 apprehensions has nearly doubled from 79 in 2009 to 147 in 2011. Most deaths are of Mexican males around the age of 30. Thirteen percent of those found dead are between 10 and 19 years of age.
Pima County records the highest number of migrant deaths each year. However, it is closely followed by rural Brooks County in Texas. Last year, Brooks County recovered the bodies of 129 suspected undocumented border crossers. This year, there have already been 79 migrant deaths recorded in the county. The deaths have become a significant burden for the small county, which must pay to examine, identify and bury the remains.
Critics of U.S. border security point to the large number of dead migrants in places like Pima County, Arizona and Brooks County, Texas as evidence of a failed policy that fails to adequately stop the flow of immigrants into this country, but rather funnels them into the most remote and dangerous stretches of border terrain. Forced to make the journey across the border in regions so remote that often Border Patrol agents can not even adequately patrol the area, these individuals are in danger of succumbing to dehydration, heat stroke, hypothermia, snake bites and any number of other environmental risks.
For years, immigrant rights activists have done their best to stop these border deaths, spreading awareness of the dangers associated with the crossing and providing resources to those who intend to make the trip anyway. Organizations like Humane Border place large blue water cisterns in areas frequented by border crossers. However, despite these efforts, the deaths have not been abated.
It appears, to many, that the only way that these numbers will see a significant drop is if a major change in border enforcement policy compels potential border crossers to opt for legal ways to gain entrance to the country. However, as long as there is no legal option for most potential immigrants, Border Patrol officers are likely to continue recovering bodies in the desert.