Immigration / Nation

In Arizona, Immigrant Deaths Hit Record High

Authorities found a record number of dead bodies in the Arizona desert over the past year. 

The 252 bodies breaks 2007’s record of 234 discovered corpses, the Arizona Daily Star’s Border Deaths Database revealed. Nearly 2,000 men, women and children have died trying to cross Arizona’s border since 2001.

The Coalición de Derechos in Tucson said the number of border deaths increased 18 times from 1994, when 14 only bodies were discovered. Roughly a quarter of the bodies found in 2010 were skeletal remains.

According to a report from the American Civil Liberties Union, San Diego was the most frequent entry for undocumented migrants until a presidential move aimed at halting immigration in the area was instituted in 1994.

“The enforcement has pushed people out into more remote areas,” said Jeffrey Passel, a senior demographer who conducted a Pew Hispanic Center study which found that unauthorized immigration flows have sharply declined. “Fifteen years ago the big parts to cross into the U.S. were in San Diego, but now people are being pushed to cross in through Arizona, which is psychically harder and more dangerous.”

Within five years, the mortality rate increased by 84 percent and the primary cause of death shifted from traffic fatalities to environmental causes, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

In an effort to provide help to those crossing the border, No More Deaths, a non-profit organization, delivers food, water and medical attention to immigrants. The group operates with an average of 50 volunteers and up to 200 during the summer time.

The group travels deep into the Sonoran Desert, further than the Minutemen are willing to go, said Geoffrey Boyce, an activist in No More Deaths.

The migrants are often too weak to continue by the time they come in contact with the volunteers. Rather than using their aid and continuing their journey, many will ask them to call the Border Patrol so they can return back to Mexico, Boyce said.

While Arizona experienced record-breaking numbers this year, the overall number of border-crossing deaths in all of the U.S.-Mexico border states has decreased. From 2007 to 2010, migrant fatalities fell by nearly 60 percent, said Wayne Cornelius, the former director of the Center for Comparative Immigration Studies.

Knowing someone who died in a border-crossing attempt and believing that it is very dangerous to enter clandestinely are the only two border enforcement variables that significantly deter migrants from illegally crossing, Cornelius said.

After Arizona introduced the immigration law, SB1070, last spring, No More Deaths has seen a significant increase of Mexicans in Arizona being deported who do not speak any Spanish or know anyone in Mexico.

While Boyce said there is a need for an immigration reform, the tragedy has been unfolding in the desert.

“It’s a real humanitarian emergency that has happened in the last decade,” Boyce said. “Nobody should lose their life trying to cross the border.”

While over $11 billion was spent on border enforcement this year and the number of Border Patrol agents doubled from 2005, Cornelius said it has been ineffective. More migrants say temperature and bandits deter them from crossing than those who say border control is their biggest concern.

According to Cornelius, 96 percent of migrants apprehended by the Border Patrol are eventually successful in illegally getting into the United States.


This article was featured on the Depaul University website as an example of student work for international reporting.

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6 thoughts on “In Arizona, Immigrant Deaths Hit Record High

  1. Do you think the rising violence in Mexico has promoted more people trying to immigrate into the U.S.? Are more people exploiting them (taking their money, offering safe passage) then ultimately not caring if they are leading them to their death? This is a very wicked state of affairs. I didn’t even know this was happening. The Mexican people should find a way to take back their country instead of dying trying to escape it.

    • Immigration has actually significantly dropped since President Calderon declared Mexico to be in a drug war. So I don’t think it is safe to say that the violence has promoted migration out of Mexico, although it could be a factor. But there definitely has been a growing number of unreliable “coyotes”, or smugglers.

      Many towns in northern Mexico have actually begun to have problems finding people to govern them, as many mayors are police enforcement chiefs are murdered by the drug cartels. In one town, a college student became the police chief because no one else would run for the job. It is both interesting and disappointing how little media coverage issues like this get when it is happening right next door, but when one member of congress is shot, the American population suddenly pays full attention.

  2. Thanks for taking the time to give me more info even though I’m sickened by the situation. 252 bodies, wow! I agree this kind of information isn’t reported enough, thankfully there are journalists like you, this is a great post, keep up the good work. I’d sure like to know where the lame stream media is.

    Where are the humanitarian groups?

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