Toll of unknown victims on Mexico-Arizona border rises

Based on local medical examiner reports, the Tucson-based Human Rights Coalition recently reported that the number of unidentified bodies found in the Arizona-Sonora border region is on the upswing. According to the immigrant rights advocacy group, 183 people were found dead in Arizona’s Pima, Yuma and Cochise counties during the fiscal year that ran from October 1, 2007, to September 30, 2008. Of the recovered bodies, 119 were [identified as] males and 45 [as] females. Although some victims were identified as nationals of Mexican, Guatemalan, Salvadoran, Honduran and Peruvian origin, more than half, or 59%, were unidentified.

“What is especially disturbing about this year’s data is the high number of remains that have an unknown gender, which went from 5 last year to 19 this year,” said the Coalition’s Kat Rodríguez in a press statement. “This means that not enough of the body was recovered to determine the gender, and without the DNA, it is impossible to know even this basic information about the individual, making identification and return to their families even more difficult.”

Though the last fiscal year’s body count of presumed border crossers was lower than the 2006-2007 total of 237 counted by the Coalition, the activist group cautioned that evidence hinted there could be more unrecovered bodies due to the “funnel effect,” or the channeling of undocumented migrants to very remote and dangerous border crossing because of heightened US security controls.

[The Coalition reports: “Since border policies were implemented in the 1990s, it is estimated that more than 4,000 bodies have been recovered on the U.S.-México border. These are tragedies, and we feel that such a human rights crisis needs a viable solution.”]

Rodríguez contended that US border security policies are sowing fatal seeds. “It is incomprehensible that these deadly policies are continued, and with the current additions to the (border) wall being constructed, we continue to see more of the same, at the cost of human life and dignity,” she said.

Rodolfo Rubio, a researcher for Ciudad Juárez’s Colegio de la Frontera Norte who specializes in migrant affairs, separately echoed Rodriguez’s concern that prevailing political and economic circumstances could result in more migrant deaths in the months ahead.

“When economic conditions are negative in the United States, there is usually a greater rejection of migrants and that could have more severe and restrictive effects,” Rubio said.

According to Mexico’s National Migration Institute, three migrants have died in the Ciudad Juárez area so far during 2008. An additional 31 migrants were given medical treatment by the Mexican government’s Grupo Beta in Ciudad Juárez and Palomas, Chihuahua, from January to September of this year.

Despite harsh obstacles, Rubio predicted that even migrants deported from the US would attempt to return north.

“It could be that the conditions are tougher in the neighboring country, but many of the repatriated people will try to find a new crossing given that they already have made their life over there,” Rubio added, “but they will not stay in Mexico.”

From Frontera NorteSur, Oct. 13

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