Historically low numbers of people are crossing the border illegally into Southern Arizona this year, but they're still dying at historically high rates.
In the 10 months through July 31, remains of 161
suspected illegal immigrants have been found in Southern Arizona from
New Mexico to the Yuma County line.
That puts this year's death
toll on pace to end up at about the annual average for the last decade -
197 - even though that period includes years when there were three to
four times as many attempted crossings.
That means the rate of
border deaths so far this year - the number of deaths per 100,000
apprehensions - is at about the record high set last year, 154.
Illegally crossing the border into Arizona is riskier than it's ever
Experts point to a few factors keeping the death rate up.
the border harder to cross, "smugglers will guide illegal aliens
through more remote, harsh terrain to avoid detection by law
enforcement, which increases risk of death," U.S. Border Patrol
spokesman Brent Cagen said in a written response to questions.
possible factor: Central Americans seem to be a growing proportion of
those crossing the border illegally. They may arrive at the U.S. border
already in greater distress than Mexicans who are just leaving their
home country, said Geoff Boyce, spokesman for No More Deaths, a group
that patrols areas southwest of Tucson to help migrants.
Also, not every set of remains may be from a recently deceased person.
Adams and his crew have found at least two sets of remains in the last
couple of months. Adams, a St. Louis private investigator who leads a
border-watch team in the area south of Three Points, reported a woman's
decomposing body in early May.
Mariana Chaverri Piña had died in
the previous few days. But they also found the bones of at least one
person in July, and it was unclear how long that body had been there.
2011, nearly half of all discoveries of deceased individuals were those
of skeletal remains," wrote Cagen of the Border Patrol.
frantic phone call
last week, a family in Waukegan, Ill., was urgently calling authorities
in Arizona, begging them to search for their lost loved one. It's a
phenomenon that happens here all summer as the heat takes crossers down.
Pasillas, 42, a father of four American-citizen children, had returned
to Mexico earlier this summer to renew a 10-year visa, his family said
through announcements from the League of United Latin American Citizens.
But his renewal was rejected, and he decided to return illegally.
July 30, Pasillas called his family to tell them he was crossing from
Sonora into Arizona with a "coyote," or smuggler, and would arrive in
three to five days, but then they heard nothing. On Aug. 9, family
members spoke with the last person known to have seen Pasillas alive.
picture he painted was painful: Pasillas' feet were wounded in the
crossing, and he was lagging behind the group. On Aug. 6, the guides
left Pasillas in the desert around Santa Rosa in the northern Tohono
O'odham Nation, with a gallon of water. The high temperature that day in
Ajo and Tucson was 106 degrees.
Family members came to Southern
Arizona to try to help find him, and Julie Contreras of LULAC urged
tribal authorities and the Border Patrol to search. The patrol did
prepare to launch a search early Aug. 13, but then they found out the
O'odham police had found a body three days before.
identification has not occurred, the family has identified Pasillas by a
tattoo. Now they are working to get his body returned to Waukegan.
At border, in distress
Some crossers are arriving at the border already in medical distress.
Humane Borders is setting up water stations in Mexico, in cooperation
with Mexican authorities, because some migrants have walked so far
before even crossing the border into the U.S.
"Many people that
are trying to cross are going to points extremely far east or west of
the main crossing areas while still on Mexican soil," said Bob Feinman, a
board member of Humane Borders. "By foot these can be a couple or three
Indeed, agents in the Border Patrol's Tucson Sector are on
pace to carry out about 13 percent more rescues this year than last,
when they recorded 500.
No More Deaths members, who work in the
broad area around Arivaca, have seen the same trend, Boyce said.
Migrants walk west from Nogales for a day or two to get into the
better-hidden canyons and washes before cutting north into the United
"By the time people get to where we're going to see them
in our work," he said, "it adds that much more strain and environmental
Rate of death rises
number of people trying to cross the border into Southern Arizona
illegally has been plummeting, but the number of people dying in the
process is not. The reason: It's more risky to cross. This chart shows
the number of bodies found in the Tucson Sector per 100,000 Border
Patrol apprehensions. While apprehensions aren't a direct measure of
crossings, other measures have also shown migration is extremely low.
Year Number of deaths per 100,000 apprehensions
* Through July 31