On Arizona border, deadly heat ahead
Fatalities are down, but June through August is peak season for migrants’ deaths.
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.