On Ari­zona bor­der, deadly heat ahead

Fa­tal­i­ties are down, but June through Au­gust is peak sea­son for mi­grants’ deaths.

Los Angeles Times - - THE NATION - By Nigel Duara nigel.duara@la­times.com

TUC­SON — In south­ern Ari­zona, the heat reaches triple dig­its by June and the num­ber of dead rises with it. Cross­ing the bor­der in this stretch of desert has al­ways been a dan­ger­ous propo­si­tion for im­mi­grants try­ing to en­ter the coun­try il­le­gally.

For this rea­son, a re­cent drop in the num­ber of bod­ies re­cov­ered along the bor­der is not nec­es­sar­ily a sign that fewer peo­ple will die try­ing to cross into the United States in months to come, au­thor­i­ties say.

“Our busiest months are June, July and Au­gust,” said Dr. Gregory Hess, Pima County’s chief med­i­cal ex­am­iner.

This year in April and May, the Pima County med­i­cal ex­am­iner’s of­fice re­ported re­ceiv­ing five bod­ies each month of peo­ple be­lieved to be at­tempt­ing to cross the bor­der, down from the av­er­age of about 10 in each of those months in previous years.

The of­fice has re­cov­ered the bod­ies of 33 peo­ple who were be­lieved to be try­ing to cross the desert into Ari­zona this year.

The num­ber of re­mains found is con­sid­ered just a frac­tion of the num­ber of un­re­cov­ered bod­ies across the desert, some of which will take years to find.

Pima County’s med­i­cal ex­am­iner’s of­fice serves most of the Ari­zona bor­der, in­clud­ing Cochise and Santa Cruz coun­ties, but the of­fice doesn’t sim­ply count ev­ery body found in the desert.

“We look at lo­ca­tion, cir­cum­stances, prop­erty, maybe some­thing they were car­ry­ing in­di­cates their place of ori­gin,” Hess said, not­ing that most of the bod­ies are in an ad­vanced state of de­com­po­si­tion when they are found. The of­fice works with Mex­i­can of­fi­cials and other au­thor­i­ties to iden­tify re­mains and re­turn them to their home­lands.

The Tuc­son sec­tor of the bor­der was long the high­est-traf­ficked area for cross­ings. That des­ig­na­tion has shifted to a sec­tion of Texas since 2012, but an un­ex­pected crush of un­ac­com­pa­nied mi­nors and women that over­whelmed the im­mi­gra­tion sys­tem last year could prove prob­lem­atic once again to Ari­zona bor­der sta­tions.

From 2002 to 2013, an av­er­age of 177 re­mains was re­cov­ered from the desert each year, ac­cord­ing to a report by the Pima County med­i­cal ex­am­iner’s of­fice. The high­est num­ber re­cov­ered was 223 in 2010.


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