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Arizona desert claiming more migrants

Deaths increase 12 percent even as fewer try to cross

Fewer illegal immigrants may be crossing the Arizona desert than last year, but more are dying.

Authorities found the bodies of at least six migrants along the border during the first six days in June, adding to a death toll that has outpaced last year’s, despite falling arrest figures.

According to the U.S. Border Patrol, 96 illegal immigrants had died as of Wednesday, a 12 percent increase over the same period last year, when the Border Patrol counted 86 dead.

At the same time, the Border Patrol has reported that apprehensions decreased 10 percent, from 299,776 arrests in fiscal year 2006, which began Oct. 1, 2005, to 269,721 arrests in fiscal year 2007.

According to a recent report on migrant deaths in Arizona from the Binational Migration Institute at the University of Arizona, the increase in deaths could be linked to expanding migration from Mexico’s impoverished and largely indigenous southern region.

Migrants from states such as Chiapas and Oaxaca are less aware of the dangers of crossing the Arizona desert and lack the networks of migrants from immigrant-sending communities, said senior researcher Melissa McCormick, who co-authored the study.

“Many of them don’t even speak Spanish,” McCormick said. “They speak indigenous languages. It makes it harder for the government and humanitarian aid groups to reach out to them.”

The increase could also be attributed to migrants taking more remote routes to avoid increased border security, she said.

Several offices that record the number of deaths have counted similar increases.

The Mexican Consulate in Tucson, which counts only the number of Mexican nationals who die, reported a 20 percent increase in the number of deaths since the start of the calendar year, from 58 in 2006 to 70 in 2007.

“If we look at the number of people dying, we can’t say that border crossings have decreased,” said consular official Alejandro Ramos.

The Cochise County medical examiner’s records show a 75 percent increase in deaths, from eight in fiscal year 2006 to 14 in 2007. The deaths were concentrated during the warmer months of April and May, which had three deaths each.

The Pima County Medical Examiner’s Office reported a smaller increase, from 80 deaths in fiscal year 2006 to 83 deaths in 2007. Eight of the deaths have occurred since June 1, according to office manager Patti Nelson.

Of the six deaths reported in June by the U.S. Border Patrol, three were women, including one found at 4:45 a.m. Tuesday near the Tohono O’odham village of Vamori. The body of a 31-year-old man from Nayarit, Mexico, was found Wednesday morning around 5 after a friend flagged down help off Interstate 19 near milepost 56.

The Mexican Consulate in Tucson is kicking off its fifth annual campaign to reduce migrant deaths with a series of posters and radio and television advertisements it hopes will discourage people from crossing the border.

In the first television ad, a woman in a prison uniform and chains warns would-be crossers from using fake papers to cross the border.

“I never knew I could get 20 years for doing this,” the woman says.

In another ad, a man lies in a coma after surviving a rollover accident.

One of three posters shows a coroner’s tag attached to a pair of feet.

“Don’t leave your life in the desert!” the poster warns.

The ads will be distributed in Tucson, Nogales and Sasabe, as well as to consulates across the United States and immigrant-sending communities in Mexico.

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This archive contains all the stories that appeared on the Tucson Citizen's website from mid-2006 to June 1, 2009.

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For all of the stories that were archived by the Tucson Citizen newspaper's library in a digital archive between 1993 and 2009, go to Morgue Part 2

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