DOUGLAS, ARIZ. – Heat exposure killed 19-year-old Cesar de la Cruz on an Arizona trail in July while traveling from southern Mexico. The body of Juan Lopez Valencia, another young Mexican, was discovered on August 3 during a dry wash on Native American land.
After the hottest and driest summer in state history, authorities have recovered a nearly 10-year record for the number of bodies of people who have crossed Mexico to deserts, valleys and mountains. Arizona mountains. It’s a reminder that the farthest routes to enter the United States can be the deadliest.
Law enforcement efforts in neighboring states over the years have helped lead people through Arizona’s difficult terrain, and some officials and activists believe that the intensification of the construction of President Donald Trump’s border wall this year, mainly in Arizona, could also push migrants into dangerous areas without ease. access to food and water.
De la Cruz and Lopez Valencia were among 214 confirmed or suspected migrants whose deaths at the Arizona border were documented from January through November by the non-profit organization Humane Borders and the County Medical Examiner’s Office. Pima, who together map the recoveries of human remains.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that the high temperatures have a lot to do with it,” said Mike Kreyche, Map Coordinator for Humane Borders.
The highest annual number documented by the project was 224 in 2010. It was not clear whether 2020 would exceed this figure once December is factored in.
The border patrol keeps its own statistics, counting the remains of suspected migrants of which it is aware in the course of its duties, according to its parent agency, Customs and Border Protection. CBP said if another agency collected the remains and did not notify the border patrol, it would not be included in its tally.
For the first nine months of 2020, the border patrol has documented 43 deaths in the Yuma and Tucson areas that make up the Arizona border area. The mapping project followed 181 deaths during the same period.
In calendar year 2019, the federal government recorded 70 deaths in Arizona, while the mapping project had 144.
Federal statistics show that search and rescue operations near the Arizona border inexplicably fell to 213 in the record high July and August, from 232 in July and August 2019. But figures from early fall indicate that rescues in the southwest were on the rise.
Hess told the Pima County Supervisory Board in October that high temperatures and dry weather were apparently the reason more bodies were found this year. While the recoveries included skeletons, many deaths were recent.
The Phoenix National Weather Service says the average high temperature was nearly 110 degrees (43 degrees Celsius) in July and nearly 111 in August, making it the hottest summer in history. The peaks in Phoenix tend to be about the same as those in Arizona’s Sonoran Desert, just north of the border with Mexico, forecasters say.
The weather service said July and August were also the driest summer months on record.
Hess told county supervisors he did not detect any major changes in where people were crossing.
Still, some officials and activists working near the Arizona border believe building walls could send migrants to more risky places. The Trump administration expects 725 kilometers of border wall to be built by the end of the year, much of it in Arizona.
“The wall sent a lot of people to the rugged terrain in our area,” said Santa Cruz County Sheriff Tony Estrada, whose jurisdiction includes Nogales, Arizona. “It’s like driving cattle down a canyon where they end up dying. ”
The remains of more than 3,000 migrants have been found near the Arizona border in the two decades since strengthened law enforcement in San Diego and El Paso, Texas began to driving people to the deserts and mountains of Arizona.
Authorities were able to identify around two-thirds. Most came from Mexico and Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.
“It’s important to remember that these are human beings, not just numbers,” said Tony Banegas, CEO of the Tucson-based Colibri Center for Human Rights, which works with the medical examiner’s office to help identify body. “The only thing we can be sure of is that there are a lot more people who have died out there than we even know. ”
It’s not just Arizona. Border mass graves have started to appear in South Texas over the past decade after large numbers of migrants began to roam isolated ranches to avoid the official checkpoint in the small town of Falfurrias.
Brooks County Sheriff Benny Martinez said his Texas department had seen an increase in distress calls from border workers this year, but the bodies of suspected migrants found in the county had fallen to 33 by the end of the month in November, compared to 45 in the same 11- month last year.
“We put signs on fixed objects like poles, animal guards, railway crosses telling them to dial 911 for help,” Martinez said.
In southern Arizona, No More Deaths and similar aid groups are leaving jugs of water and other supplies in remote places. The group gained national attention when one of its members was tried and acquitted last year for harboring migrants.
Estrada, the Santa Cruz County Sheriff, said he feared authorities would see a higher number of deaths next year if large groups of migrants flock to the border, hoping Joe Biden’s administration be more welcoming.
“These people will keep coming because most of them don’t have anything at home,” Estrada said.