Immigrant deaths in Arizona desert soaring, medical examiner warns
PHOENIX — The number of deaths among illegal immigrants crossing the Arizona desert from Mexico is soaring so high this month that the medical examiner’s office that handles the bodies is using a refrigerated truck to store some of them, the chief examiner said Friday.
The bodies of 40 illegal immigrants have been brought to the office of Dr. Bruce Parks, the Pima County medical examiner, since July 1. At that rate, Parks said, the deaths could top the 68 in July 2005, a single-month record since his office began tracking them in 2000.
“Right now, at the halfway point of the month, to have so many is just a very bad sign,” he said. “It’s definitely on course to perhaps be the deadliest month of all time.”
From Jan. 1 to July 15, the office has received the bodies of 134 illegal immigrants, up from 93 at the same time last year and 102 in 2008. In 2007, when the office recorded the highest annual deaths of illegal immigrants, 140 bodies had arrived through July 15.
Parks said his office, which handles immigrant bodies from three counties, is storing roughly 250 and had to start using a refrigerated truck this month.
He said many of the bodies seem to be coming from the desert southwest of Tucson, where it tends to be hotter than eastern parts of the border or the Tucson metro area.
Authorities think the high number of deaths is probably because of above-average and unrelenting heat in southern Arizona this month and ongoing tighter border security, which pushes immigrants to more remote, rugged and dangerous terrain.