Indigenous Peoples and Human Rights

January 24, 2012

Migrant death rate doubles on Arizona border as US expands criminal policies

Remembering migrants at San Xavier Photo Brenda Norrell
Migrant Death Rate on Arizona Border More than Double in Two Years while DHS Plans Expansion of Deadly Criminalization Policies

By Kat Rodriguez
Derechos Humanos
Censored News

Arizona- Despite continued claims by the Department of Homeland Security that the number of migrant deaths has reached an all-time low, data show that the actual rate of migrant death on the Arizona border has actually almost doubled in the last two years. This information comes as DHS announces plans to eliminate voluntary removals and criminally prosecute, incarcerate, and formally deport all apprehended immigrants, a move that is clearly spurred by the need to boost detention numbers to justify a grossly bloated DHS budget.

While apprehension numbers do not provide an exact number of immigrants attempting to cross the border, academic research has illustrated that apprehension are highly correlated and fluctuate with true unauthorized migration flows (1). Using the numbers of U.S. Border Patrol apprehensions as a proxy for migration flow, along with the number of human remains recovered on the border, we are able to generate an approximate "migrant death rate."

As a point of comparison, in 2009, the number of recovered human remains of those believed to be border crossers was 183. The number of apprehensions reported by the Border Patrol in the Tucson sector was 241,673. Thus, it can be said that for every 100,000 apprehensions, there were 75.72 human remains recovered on the Arizona border.

In 2011, the number of recovered human remains of border crossers was also 183. However, reported apprehensions for the Tucson sector dropped dramatically that year, to 123,285. Ultimately, for every 100,000 apprehensions, the remains of 148.43 migrants were recovered; nearly double the rate of 2009.

Since 2000, the remains of more than 2,300 migrants have been recovered on the Arizona, and at least 6,000 border-wide. The continued policies of criminalization of working men and women, coupled with the strategy of funneling migration further into the harsh Arizona desert, has resulted in a human rights crisis that has been denounced by local, national, and international communities.

Claiming credit for the decrease in migration, which is in fact the result of the poor economy, DHS's plan to dramatically increase the criminalization of migrant workers is irresponsible. Such a policy will ultimately result in forcing more people through non-regularized forms of migration while boosting the budgets of private detention centers such as CCA and contracted companies such as Geo Group, whose budgets depend specifically on the criminalization, detention and deportation of migrants, and who have long been included in the biggest lobbyists for longer and harsher sentencing for immigrants.

The failure of the Obama Administration to acknowledge the impact of deadly border policies and the appalling position of increasing the enforcement regime is reprehensible. In this heated election year, it is particularly insulting to Latino families that political leaders jockey to outdo each other on anti-immigrant and blatantly anti-Mexican rhetoric, while at the same time strategize on how to secure the Latino vote. Democrats and Republicans alike should be advised that this hypocrisy has not gone unnoticed by Latino communities, and they can expect no less than to harvest what the seeds of their xenophobia and racism will yield them.

Currently, the number of remains recovered in Arizona from October through December of 2011 is 45, already exceeding of the number recovered last year during the same timeframe. 82% are currently unidentified. 55% are of unknown gender, meaning that not enough of their bodies were recovered to establish gender. 73% are skeletal remains, a result of the federal border strategy of forcing them into the most isolated and remote areas of the border. While Arizona continues to be viewed as a "battleground state" by political and economic forces, the real battle is being waged around the issue of dignity and justice, with human beings as the casualties of greed and division.
Espenshade, Thomas J. (1995b). "Unauthorized Immigration to the United States." Annual Review of Sociology. Vol. 21, Pp. 195-216.

The complete list of recovered remains is available on the CoaliciĆ³n de Derechos Humanos website: This information is available to anyone who requests it from us and is used by our organization to further raise awareness of the human rights crisis we are facing on our borders.

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