Illegal Immigrant Deaths Set Record In Arizona

Authorities have discovered 252 bodies in the Arizona desert over the past year — the remains of migrants who died trying to cross into the U.S. illegally. That's a record, but overall the Border Patrol says the number of people crossing illegally is down. So, why the increase in the number of bodies?

In recent years, the U.S. government has built a border fence, improved technology and hired thousands more Border Patrol agents.

That has helped reduce the number of people caught crossing illegally, but it has also pushed crossers into more remote and dangerous places to avoid detection — places where sore feet or a broken ankle can mean death from dehydration or exposure.

When those bodies are discovered, most of them go to the Pima County Medical Examiner's Office, headed by Bruce Parks. His office had to find temporary space to store bodies this summer, but Parks says not all of the deaths are recent.

"We're getting more skeletal remains," Parks says. "There's greater presence out there by the Border Patrol and whoever, and they're finding more people who've been out there for awhile."

The Border Patrol also reports a record number of rescues since last October.

Agent Mario Escalante blames the increases on human smugglers who lure naive crossers into dangerous situations.

"They weren't told that they were going to have to walk for days. They weren't told that they were going to have to go over mountain ranges. They weren't told that they were going to have to sleep in the hot desert or maybe the cold desert," Escalante says.

A large number of bodies — especially skeletal remains — are difficult to identify.

On Tuesday, the Mexican and U.S. governments agreed to share DNA databases to help identify remains and return them to their families.

Mexican Consul Juan Manuel Calderon Jaimes says his government needs to do a better job of warning potential illegal immigrants of the dangers of crossing the desert. He also says the solution to the problem is changing U.S. immigration law so more people can enter legally.

"The immigration reform is going to lead to a law that people can come to the United States with the proper documents to work or to visit," he says.

Over the past nine years in Arizona, Border Patrol agents and others have discovered more than 1,800 bodies — all remains of people who died trying to get into the United States.

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