Near the end of August, the number of deaths by border crossers in Pima County, Ariz., was beginning to climb to near-record numbers. Today, NPR reports that the number of deaths by migrants in the Arizona desert has officially surpassed all previous years: 252 bodies of illegal immigrants have been discovered in the past year.
That isn’t because more people are crossing the border: Overall border crossings are still down, according to the Border Patrol. But those who do cross the border are often funneled through the most dangerous routes to avoid detection by Border Patrol agents, according to NPR:
In recent years, the U.S. government has built a border fence, improved technology and hired thousands more Border Patrol agents.
That has helped reduce the number of people caught crossing illegally, but it’s also pushed crossers into more remote and dangerous places to avoid detection. Places where sore feet or a broken ankle can mean death from dehydration or exposure. [...]
Agent Mario Escalante blames the increases on human smugglers who lure naive crossers into dangerous situations.
“They weren’t told that they were gonna have to walk for days. They weren’t told that they were gonna have to go over mountain ranges. They weren’t told that they were gonna have to sleep in the hot desert or maybe the cold desert,” Escalante says.
Bodies in these areas are often found long after the individuals have died, making their identities even more difficult to determine. In an effort to keep more migrants alive, humanitarian groups such as the Tuscon-based No More Deaths leave water bottles in the desert for illegal immigrants. They argue it is a humanitarian issue, not an effort to aid in illegal border crossing. But because the border region is mostly federal land, members of the group have been arrested for leaving trash in a national refuge. Anti-illegal immigration groups, such as the Minutemen, reportedly often slash the bottles to drain the water.