New York Times:

The increase in deaths has happened despite many signs that the number of immigrants crossing the border illegally has dropped in recent years. The number of people caught trying to sneak across the frontier without a visa has fallen in each of the last five years and stands at about half of the record 616,000 arrested in 2000.

Not only has the economic downturn in the United States eliminated many of the jobs that used to lure immigrants, human rights groups say, but also the federal government has stepped up efforts to stop the underground railroad of migrants, building mammoth fences in several border towns and flooding the region with hundreds of new Border Patrol agents equipped with high-tech surveillance tools.

These tougher enforcement measures have pushed smugglers and illegal immigrants to take their chances on isolated trails through the deserts and mountains of southern Arizona, where they must sometimes walk for three or four days before reaching a road.

“As we gain more control, the smugglers are taking people out to even more remote areas,” said Omar Candelaria, the special operations supervisor for the Border Patrol’s Tucson Sector. “They have further to walk and they are less prepared for the journey, and they don’t make it.”

Many different factors contribute to this increase in deaths.  A soaring heat wave is believed to be a main contributor to the morgue in Pima County, near Tucson, simply running out of room. Two weeks ago, the medical examiner had to bring in a refrigerated truck because there was simply no more room.   Many of the remains will go unidentified. 

According to the NYT:

The rise in deaths comes as Arizona is embroiled in a bitter legal battle over a new law intended to discourage illegal immigrants from settling here by making it a state crime for them to live or seek work.

But the law has not kept the immigrants from trying to cross hundreds of miles of desert on foot in record-breaking heat. The bodies of 57 border crossers have been brought in during July so far, putting it on track to be the worst month for such deaths in the last five years. 

As more and more technology and manpower is poured into border control, more and more lives are lost because those crossing illegally have to go into more remote areas, further and further off the beaten path.  The more days in the desert, the greater the likelihood some won’t make it. 

Investigators sift through the things the dead carried for clues — Mexican voter registration cards, telephone numbers scrawled on scraps of paper, jewelry, rosaries, family photographs. Often there is precious little to go on.


Fewer immigrants crossing illegally each year and yet more deaths on the rise is not a good picture. Since 2000, the Puma County medical examiner’s office has dealt with about 1,700 bodies. They have identified about 1,050. That in itself is remarkable.

Looking at the greater picture, what must that say about the human condition on the other side of the border. Talk goes back home. What must inspire those who cross to make such a dangerous trek? Regardless of how strongly one feels about illegal immigration, it is real hard to not have some compassion for those who risk literally everything for work. It makes rhetoric like ‘illegal is illegal’ sound cheap and tawdry and frankly, meaningless. These aren’t people who study our thousands of pages of immigration laws. These aren’t people who deliberately violate our laws. These are people, often young people, who lay down their lives to be in this country.

Many of our ancestors came to this country under horrific conditions. They came in the holds of ships, they crossed the continent when all that was out there was bad weather, hostile American Indians, wild animals, extreme conditions, no roads. What drove them on? The promise of a better life for them and their families. Some emigrated alone. Some brought families. All took risks that many people today could never begin to undertake.

All countries have the right to decide who comes in and who crosses their borders. Yet while the immigration debate rages on, it is hard to ignore the human element of the question. It’s easier to ignore if one doesn’t think about what’s happening out there among the coyotes and the cactus, the heat and the rattle snakes, the 120 degree weather and the scorpions. Once a human face is put on the migrants, the question just looks a lot different.

18 Thoughts to “Overcrowded Morgues as Desert Deaths Soar”

  1. Slowpoke Rodriguez

    Choose to ignore our sovereignty, take your chances. I don’t wish to sound harsh, but they don’t have to come here illegally.

    1. I don’t think this is an article where a person has to chose a side. I think it explains.

      It fits in with the desert rescue group and helps explain why they feel compelled to help rescue those who have been out in the desert.

      To those who say that the government isn’t doing anything are ignoring the facts. That is just a mantra most of us are sick of hearing.

  2. Second-Alamo

    When are those in Mexico going to stay home and take care of their own business. If people have the will to risk their lives for a better life then why not risk it trying to improve their own country. I guess since US citizens have already done the difficult job of building and defending a successful nation it’s just easier for them to hop on over and take advantage of other’s sacrifices. And they say there’s no such thing as a free lunch, right!

  3. SA, one could say the same thing about all of our ancestors who came over the the new world.

    Do you really think that those who come across the border and do lawn care and wash dishes are empowered to change their country? Get serious.

    Part of the problem in Mexico is that there is very little middle class.

    SA, I expect the American Indians probably would have agreed with you some 400 years ago.

  4. Starryflights

    I found this very interesting

    28 July 2010 Last updated at 08:50 ET Share this pageFacebookTwitter ShareEmail Print US border violence: Myth or reality?By Katie Connolly

    BBC News, El Paso, Texas

    Second safest city

    “The reality is we really don’t need the help on this side of the border. We probably have every kind of federal law enforcement agency that you can think of. We’re an extremely safe community,” Mr Cook says.

    Despite Juarez’s murder toll, in El Paso, local authorities have recorded just two murders this year. In 2009 there were 11.

  5. Second-Alamo

    And around and around we go! I don’t give a rat’s behind about what happened 100 years ago. History must be studied so that mistakes of the past aren’t repeated, such as the amnesty that was given when the illegals only numbered less than 8 million or so. Now look what’s happened, and some are saying that amnesty is the way to go again? I guess they aren’t into history either. It’s the future that concerns me most, and if things don’t change we’ll have so much in common with Mexico that the border will effectively evaporate, and so will our future.

  6. Looking at the greater picture, what must that say about the human condition on the other side of the border. Talk goes back home. What must inspire those who cross to make such a dangerous trek?

    These poor people (not drug cartel or gang members) are refugees but are not being declared so. Instead, they are labeled and persecuted as “illegals.”

  7. @Moon-howler
    I donated to the Samaritans group, thanks to this blog, MH. They are heroes and heroines working the front lines of human suffering.

  8. SA, don’t you think that all migration takes place because something is better on the other side, or at least perceived as such.

    I understand your concerns about overcrowding and unlimited immigration. However, do you see the connection between the settling of America and what is happening now? Our ancestors came here under some mighty horrific conditions. The westward expansion was horrible also. I reread the Donner Party story every time I need reminding of how fortunate I am.

  9. Big Dog

    M-H, “Part of the problem in Mexico is there is very little middle class”.

    And that is part of the problem in PWC, the two cities, and areas
    like them across the country where immigration, a portion illegal,
    has grown most rapidly. Citizens, some just hanging on to the
    America “middle class dream”, feel under attack by massive waves
    of poor uneducated Hispanics. A couple of overcrowded flop houses
    can quickly destroy what had been a decent modest middle class street.
    People here struggle to maintain what immigrants struggle to find –
    the mystery is why too many immigrants trash communties when they
    arrive – oddly, it seems they are attempting to recreate the flawed society
    they have just fled plus impose it on their new neighbors.

    No one should die a horrible death in the desert, but an immigration policy
    fair for everyone, must include reasonable protections for the most
    impacted American citizens. Simply opening the flood gates will destroy
    much of middle class American and we will all find ourselves living in
    a third – class country.

  10. @Big Dog
    However, offering a fair shot at becoming educated can help, assuming our educational system doesn’t suck. Right now, though, financing education is so risky, many people (of all walks of life) would rather work in low paying jobs than put themselves in debt for the rest of their lives, especially when there are few protections from predatory schools and lenders.

    Furthermore, if we don’t stop the fear mongering, our first-generation immigrants aren’t going to feel safe enough to attend English classes.

    That’s really what we are talking about–first generation immigrants. Children pick up on English and have more opportunity than their parents. So we have to give parents the chance to better themselves and come out of the shadows.

    No one wants flop houses, crime or trash. Once again, though, we are talking about neighborhood and police issues, not immigration in the case you cite.

  11. Big Dog, I understand what you are saying. I think the growth in our area was just too fast. Overcrowding didn’t help either. Overcrowding always trashes things. People like Cindy and Chris have worked very hard to lessen the impact on communities, especially communities that were the hardest hit during our immigration wave.

    I do want to throw in that the chief offenders who trashed my immediate vicinity were white people. I have never been so glad to see a ‘family’ move as I was when those people left.

    Additionally, many immigrants who live near me, not all, but many, made significant improvements to the homes in my neighborhood. One didn’t. They made a mess of things. It just all depends. Some people take care of things. Others don’t.

  12. Big Dog

    “Rather than dismiss all immigration critics as xenophobes,
    supporters of immigrant rights need to deal with the legitimate
    gripes of their opponents. The most basic is that immigrants
    cost local governments money.” E.J. Dionne (Wash. Post 5-26-2006)

    Supporting local jurisdictions with financial resources and laws to help
    maintain a reasonable “quality of life” for all aren’t mentioned in any
    immigration reform law I’ve seen. Without them, I won’t support it.

  13. Big Dog, I have always tried to address neighborhood concerns as they relate to immigrants as well as those who are not immigrants.

    What is it specifically that you want? You are speaking in such generalities that it is hard to address what you are talking about. Do you want state money? Federal money? What is the money to help with?

    Certainly the county beefed up its efforts at neighborhood services. I don’t know where the money came from. A few community liason people would be helpful also. Are neighborhoods still having problems in the city?

  14. Big Dog

    M-H, You can start with looking at school budgets and the average extra
    cost of educating ESL students – 20-25% per student. It is an enormous
    fiscal issue for jurisdictions with large student populations of recent immigrants.
    The Feds should pay at least the additional expense per student. The money
    is mainly for smaller classes and special ESL teachers.

  15. Big Dog–I doubt that will happen. The best way to curb some of those costs is to lobby to do away with NCLB. Meeting the AYP requirements is what is really adding on to the cost of educating ESOL, Sp. Ed., minorities and economically disadvantaged.

  16. Big Dog

    “A National Academy of Sciences study found that the average immigrant
    puts a net lifetime fiscal cost of over $25,000 on local government.
    ‘Estimates are that localities are forced to pay tens of billions of dollars
    in health and education cost for noncitizens’ says Senator Hillary Clinton.”

    E.J. Dionne Jr. (WaPo 5-26-2009)

    It is foolish to believe that a massive wave of poor, unskilled and uneducated
    immigrants doesn’t have a huge negative fiscal impact on local jurisdictions.

    1. Did they say why? @ Big Dog

Comments are closed.