RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
We have a grim statistic to share with you this morning. It comes from near the American border with Mexico. More than 250 bodies have been discovered in the Arizona desert in the past year. That's a record. They are the remains of migrants who died trying to cross into the U.S. illegally. Overall, the number of people crossing illegally is down, according to the Border Patrol. So why the increase in the dead? NPR's Ted Robbins explains.
TED ROBBINS: In recent years, the U.S. government has built a border fence, improved technology and hired thousands more Border Patrol agents. That's helped reduce the number of people caught crossing illegally. But it's 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 come 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 Dr. Parks says not all the deaths are recent.
Dr. BRUCE PARKS (Pima County Medical Examiner's Office): We're getting more skeletal remains. I think there's a greater presence out there by Border Patrol and whoever, and they're finding more people that have been out there for a while.
ROBBINS: 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.
Mr. MARIO ESCALANTE (Border Patrol Agent): 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 sleep in the hot desert, or maybe the cold desert.
ROBBINS: A large number of bodies, especially the skeletal remains, are difficult to identify. On Tuesday, the Mexican and U.S. governments agreed to share DNA databases to help ID 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 laws so more people can come legally.
Mr. JUAN MANUEL CALDERON JAIMES (Mexican Consul): 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.
ROBBINS: Meanwhile, over the last nine years in Arizona, Border Patrol agents and others have discovered more than 1,800 bodies: the remains of people who died trying to get into the United States.
Ted Robbins, NPR News, Tucson.