Border securityTexas sees rise in number of border crossers dying in the summer heat

Published 26 June 2013

During the hot summer months, dozens of migrants die trying to cross the southern border in Arizona and California. Now, Texas is seeing an increase in the number of immigrant dying as they cross the U.S.-Mexico border and lose their way in the desert.

During the hot summer months, dozens of migrants die trying to cross the southern border in Arizona and California. Now, Texas is seeing an increase in the number of immigrant dying as they cross the U.S.-Mexico border and lose their way in the desert.

The L.A. Times reports that  the majority of the deaths in Texas occur when migrants try to go through the ranch lands to avoid a nearby border patrol checkpoint on U.S. highway 281, about seventy miles north of the border. Hundreds of migrants try to go around the checkpoint every night, but many do not make it.

So far this year thirty-one bodies or remains have been discovered. Last year 129 bodies were found, a record that made the Rio Grande Valley area of Texas the second deadliest crossing region, behind Tucson, Arizona. The U.S. Border Patrol says that in total, 463 people died last year trying to cross the southern border.

One explanation as to why the region has seen a spike in death and crossers is  the area’s relative lack of border infrastructure and staffing lures crossers from more fortified regions, such as California and Arizona. Another explanation is geography:  South Texas is the nearest U.S. border for tens of thousands of Central Americans fleeing crime and poverty.

It is not known how many people make it across for every person that does not, and Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas) has cited the growing death count as evidence that border security is still not at an effective point.

“As a policymaker, I have a responsibility to find real solutions to these issues that are all too familiar to Texans,” Cornyn wrote in an op-ed published by Fox News. “Anything less only perpetuates this grotesque human tragedy playing out every day on American soil.”

The trek starting a few miles from the 281 checkpoint to a few miles past the checkpoint, where a truck will pick the migrants up, ranges from fifteen to thirty miles. Since the area is ranch land and not desert, the trek is much harder.

Ranch soil is sandy and takes its toll on the legs. With no mountain peaks or unique terrain to guide the way, the crossers tend to walk through brushy pastures and clusters of mesquite and oak trees, often not realizing they have been walking in circles. Temperatures regularly top 100 degrees.

When ranchers  now see a flock of vultures in the sky, they no longer assume it is a dead animal, but instead the body of a person who could not make it.

Local officials are struggling to keep up with the rising death toll. Brook County does not have a medical examiner’s office.  Some of the bodies are torn apart by animals, leaving scattered remains that cannot be identified, and bodies that cannot be identified end up in the town’s cemetery.

Baylor University students spent nine days at the cemetery in May digging up remains of sixty-three unidentified bodies to collect DNA samples and start a database for missing persons. They are sure to collect many more remains and bodies during the next few months.

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