Fewer re­mains in Ari­zona desert

129 bod­ies of ap­par­ent bor­der crossers were found last year – the low­est count since ’01.

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

TUCSON — The re­mains of 129 peo­ple who died try­ing to cross the U.S. bor­der were re­cov­ered in the south­ern Ari­zona desert last year, the low­est num­ber since 2001, au­thor­i­ties said.

But Pima County Chief Med­i­cal Ex­am­iner Gre­gory Hess said that didn’t nec­es­sar­ily mean fewer peo­ple tried to cross the un­for­giv­ing desert.

Bor­der Pa­trol agents could have changed their routes, he told the Los An­ge­les Times, or smaller groups trav­el­ing to­gether could be re­duc­ing the odds that some­one would call emer­gency re­spon­ders about a per­son who was left be­hind.

“The fact that most of the re­mains are skele­tal means it’s un­known when they died,” Hess said.

The Pima County Med­i­cal Ex­am­iner’s Of­fice is re­spon­si­ble for an­a­lyz­ing the re­mains of “un­doc­u­mented bor­der crossers” col­lected along most of the U.S.-Mex­ico bor­der in Ari­zona, in­clud­ing Santa Cruz and Cochise coun­ties.

Oth­ers clas­si­fied as bor­der crossers who died else­where can come to the Pima County med­i­cal ex­am­iner from as far north as Phoenix, where peo­ple who die bear­ing ob­vi­ous signs of cross­ing the bor­der are counted as uniden­ti­fied bor­der crossers.

“It may be 15 peo­ple af­ter cross­ing the bor­der in a truck near Phoenix at night with no head­lights, and it rolls, and five peo­ple die,” Hess told the Los An­ge­les Times. “Those five peo­ple would come to us.”

Most of the re­cov­ered re­mains were skele­tal, most were men, and most were from Mex­ico, the med­i­cal ex­am­iner’s an­nual re­port said. In 84% of the cases, the cause of death was un­known.

The num­ber of re­cov­er­ies peaked in the sum­mer, con­sis­tent with pre­vi­ous years, the re­port said. The num­ber was far lower than the 168 re­cov­ered in 2013 or the 156 found in 2012, but still higher than in 2001, when the re­mains of 77 peo­ple were found.

The worst year by far since the Med­i­cal Ex­amin- er’s Of­fice be­gan col­lect­ing data was 2010, when 223 bod­ies were found, the re­port said — 99 in June, July and Au­gust alone, over­whelm­ing the of­fice.

Bor­der-cross­ing deaths con­sti­tute a tiny per­cent­age of the bod­ies re­ceived by the med­i­cal ex­am­iner, but of­ten re­quire the most at­ten­tion.

The work can be ag­o­niz­ingly dif­fi­cult. With­out iden­ti­fy­ing doc­u­ments, or with doc­u­ments that may be fake, the process of track­ing down sur­vivors can be im­pos­si­ble.

Be­fore and af­ter the sum­mer months last year, the num­ber of re­cov­er­ies was fairly con­sis­tent. Be­tween nine and 11 re­mains were found in each month ex­cept Jan­uary and Fe­bru­ary, in which 12 and seven bod­ies were found, re­spec­tively.

Don Bartletti Los An­ge­les Times

IM­MI­GRANTS FOL­LOW a smug­gler in Ari­zona in 2007. The worst year for bor­der-cross­ing fa­tal­i­ties since the Pima County Med­i­cal Ex­am­iner’s Of­fice be­gan col­lect­ing data was 2010, when 223 bod­ies were found.

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