Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Border deaths at four-year high

Green Valley News
December 2, 2009
By Jaime Richardson

Migrant deaths in the Tucson Sector are the highest in four years, and a border activist expects that number to grow next year.

The Border Patrol reported that 208 bodies of suspected illegal immigrants were discovered in the sector in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30; 171 deaths were reported a year earlier. The Tucson Sector covers all of the Arizona border with Mexico except Yuma.

A spokesman for the Border Patrol’s Tucson Sector said it took two months to release the official tally because the agency wanted to be sure it was accurate. A spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security in Washington, which oversees the Border Patrol, said it’s routine for numbers to be released several months after the end of the fiscal year because of the large amount of data that must be compiled.

However, local Border Patrol authorities routinely supply Tucson Sector monthly numbers a day or two after the end of the month.

The high number of bodies — 37 more than last year — was a surprise to the founder of the Coalicion de Derechos Humanos, a Tucson human rights organization that keeps its own count of deaths in the desert.

Derechos Humanos counted 206 deaths in fiscal year 2009, compiling data from medical examiner reports from Pima, Cochise and Yuma counties. Their number is usually higher than the Border Patrol because it includes the entire state.

Isabel Garcia, head of Derechos Humanos, said the Border Patrol’s number could mean the agency is becoming more accurate in its reporting.

“Either way, numbers this high are an abomination,” she said.

The number was unexpected because all sides agree that fewer illegal immigrants are crossing the border because of the poor economy in the United States.

“All the reports have shown that crossings have dramatically decreased, yet the deaths go against that,” Garcia said. “This tells you we were right all along. An increase of military and police-natured responses lead to more deaths. Even though less people are crossing, more people are dying.”

The Border Patrol, however, says they are increasingly patrolling more remote parts of the desert and therefore are discovering bones that may have been there for years. A body is included in the count the year it is discovered.

Garcia expects to see the number go up.

“Economically, we’ve not seen the worst of it yet,” she said. “The impact of NAFTA trade policies on agriculture in Mexico will propel more people to try to come up.”

BORDER DEATHS, by fiscal year:

2009: 208

2008: 171

2007: 202


2005: 216


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