The deserts around the US-Mexico border can be a harsh and deadly environment, especially for those who make the crossing on foot. Even as recent numbers have indicated a surge in illegal immigrants coming into the US, primarily from Central America, immigrant deaths are on the decline.
Border Patrol has reported 284 deaths along the border with Mexico from October 2013 through last month. This number is down from 420 over the same period a year before. According to the Border Patrol, the reduction in deaths is likely due to an increasing number of patrols, and better surveillance and technology. Together, these help agents catch more migrants before they risk death in the vast deserts along the southern borders of Arizona, Texas and California.
New blimps have been put to the air along the Texas border, which can scan the ground and more easily locate people passing through the brush, even at night. However, some Border Patrol officials fear that the number of deaths may rise again if the additional agents and resources are not continued.
Border Patrol checkpoints have driven people off of the roads and more traveled areas, into remote ranches and desert brush. The Tucson and Rio Grande Valley sectors had the highest numbers of immigrant deaths. Both areas showed a drop in those numbers over last year. Many deaths are due to heat, others from drowning or vehicle accidents. However, some immigrant advocates argue that the numbers may be misleading, because it may take months for bodies lost in the desert to be found.
A growing part of aide comes from people facing perilous conditions to call for help. Around Tucson, Arizona, the Border Patrol has install ten new distress beacons. Now totaling 32, these rescue beacons feature a button and blinking light which alerts Border Patrol of someone seeking aid. Hundreds of people have been rescued as a result of the life-saving beacons. The additional beacons coincide with the Blue Light of Life campaign which educates people on the potential dangers of crossing the desert.
Although, not all deaths occur from from the natural elements, some even happen on the Mexican side of the border. A Border Patrol agent recently fired several shots at an armed militia member near the Rio Grande in Texas. Although no one was injured in this event, almost 2 years ago, a Border Patrol agent working on the Arizona side of the border, shot through a border fence, killing a teenage boy in Nogales.
The mother of the boy, Araceli Rodriguez filed a lawsuit against the agent and agency arguing use of excessive force and violation of civil rights. Customs and Border Protection has still not released the name of the single agent who shot Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez. Government officials alleged that the agent fired at people throwing rocks, but witnesses said the boy was not one of the rock throwers, and had been walking down the street when he was shot 10 times in the back and head. Meanwhile, his family waits to know who killed the boy, and why.