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Migrants Now Facing Greater Risk Of Death

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Migrants Now Facing Greater Risk Of Death

Migrants Now Facing Greater Risk Of Death


Undocumented Border Crosser Deaths Recorded by the Pima County Office of the Medical Examiner, 1990-2012

TUCSON, Ariz. -- Immigrants are facing a greater risk of dying as they try to cross into the United States illegally, researchers said Wednesday. Their data shows deaths in the desert have remained at a constant even as arrests have dropped significantly

Researchers at the University of Arizona compared how many bodies were found in the desert every year since 1990, for a 13-year total of 2,238. Then they compared that number to the number of arrests made by the U.S. Border Patrol in each year. What they found was that the same number of dead bodies were discovered even as apprehensions along the border dropped.

That means migrants crossing the border into Arizona in 2012, for example, were twice as likely to die as they were in 2009.

Bodies are also left out in the desert for longer periods now. More bodies were found in advanced stages of decomposition. That makes it impossible to pinpoint a cause of death.

"Basically the cause of death change from "exposure" to "undetermined" probably has more to do with the remoteness they bodies were found in and the longer they’d been in the desert and less to do with the actual cause of death," said Greg Hess, the Pima County Chief Medical Examiner.

Every year, about 200 people are found dead in the desert.

"Certainly this summer is not going to be any different," said Raquel Rubio Goldsmith, one of the authors of Wednesday’s report.

So far this fiscal year, 102 people have been found dead in southern Arizona. But as health officials noted, migrant deaths are not merely an Arizona issue. This year for the first time, the Rio Grande Valley in Texas may surpass Arizona in migrant deaths.

Fronteras Desk senior editor Michel Marizco is an award-winning investigative reporter based in Flagstaff.