Amidst the controversial deliberations of the comprehensive immigration reform debate, one of the most tragic outcomes of America's border policy is often forgotten. Despite a dramatic decline in border apprehensions in recent years, indicating a correlating decline in people crossing the border clandestinely, the numbers of people dying in the desert have remained constant.
"Less people are coming across," Bruce Anderson stated in a recent New York Times story, "but a greater fraction of them are dying." Anderson is chief forensic anthropologist at the Pima County Medical Examiner's Office, and thus leads the effort to identify the remains of bodies found in the desert in the Tucson sector of the border. Currently, the remains of 774 people that perished in the desert await identification at his office.
Not only are the death tolls remaining constant, recent numbers indicate that they could be on the rise. In the last fiscal year, there were 463 deaths in the entire border sector, making it the most deadly year since 2005, when there were three times the number of apprehensions. The article hypothesizes that increased Border Security has everything to do with the rising percentage of deaths among those crossing the border. Because the border is increasingly patrolled, migrants who take the risk of crossing must traverse increasingly difficult terrain in order to avoid Border Patrol. These more difficult and longer journeys result in greater chances of death by exposure, hyperthermia and hypothermia.
In its latest effort to identify these remains, the Pima County Medical Examiner's office has launched a mapping database to record the GPS coordinates of where remains have been found, as well as sex, age and cause of death. The mapping tool has allowed the office to zero in on a geographic location and match unidentified bones with the rest of the remains of a deceased migrant. For example, a mandible found alone in the desert was matched to a body missing a mandible that was found in the same geographic area. Such tools allow the forensic experts to notify the families of the deceased in a much more timely manner.
Despite these advances, the fact remains that astonishing numbers of people are dying on U.S. soil every year, and border security doesn't seem to be the answer to this lingering human rights concern. The article is a stark reminder to our legislators that we must pay attention to the human side of this border conflict in crafting sensible and humane policies.