The Arizona Desert Claims More Migrant Lives

The months of January to July 2017 saw 232 migrant deaths as people attempted to cross the border in Mexico to reach the United States, says the United Nation’s Migration agency. This figure is higher than the equivalent months in 2016, despite a substantial drop in the total number of people attempting to make the border crossing this year.

US Border Patrol officials reported roughly half as many people were detained trying to cross the border, but there was still a 17% increase in the number of people perishing during their attempt to cross the arid Arizona desert.

Senior defence oversight associate at the Washington Office of Latin America, Adam Isacson has called the increase in deaths shocking and unprecedented, considering an overall drop in people attempting to cross the border has been observed.

It has been suggested that stricter immigration policies under the Trump administration are responsible for the change. With Border Patrol being increased, fewer migrants are attempting to cross illegally for fear of being apprehended, however those that still do attempt the crossing are choosing to take more dangerous and remote routes to avoid being caught.

Of the 232 people who died during their desert crossing, a large portion has been identified as young Mexicans. Mexican migrants do not have the same rights to claim asylum in the US when apprehended by Border Patrol as migrants from other Central American countries. This phenomenon could be contributing to the greater number of Mexican deaths.

Migrants from Central America will typically be granted asylum if they are fleeing dangerous situations such as crime and gang violence. They are then able to remain in the United States while their asylum application is being processed, affording them a degree of sanctuary. However, Mexican citizens who cross the border illegally will usually be detained and returned to Mexico. Consequently, many more who are desperately seeking economic opportunity are choosing to risk crossing into North America by extremely dangerous routes, just to avoid apprehension.

In July of this year alone 50 bodies were discovered, some in remote areas of the desert and others in sweltering vehicles attempting to cross the border by road. Officials are concerned that more women and children will attempt dangerous crossings by desert or crossing the Rio Grande as reports suggest border guards have been illegally turning asylum seekers away. Incidences such as this seem to have been on the increase since President Trump was elected in November 2016.

The International  Organisation for Migration (IOM) have stated that the current migrant fatality count has likely been underestimated, as deaths often occur in remote areas of desert or in river crossings where the bodies will be swept downstream.