Nearly 1,700 bodies, each one a mystery
I don't want to go on being just a root in the shadows,
vacillating, extended, shivering with dream,
down in the damp bowels of earth,
absorbing it, thinking it, eating it every day.
-Pablo Neruda from 'Walking Around'
Border issues in the news...
Arizona's border is a desert of death.
Nearly 2,000 men, women and children have died trying to cross the border illegally in the past decade - not counting the bodies still out there, waiting to be discovered.
A decrease in illegal crossings over the past six years hasn't slowed the deaths, steady at about 200 annually. This year could be the worst yet.
The deaths surged after a mid-1990s security push beefed up enforcement in Texas and California. Authorities expected Southern Arizona's harsh desert and deadly heat to be a natural deterrent from crossing.
Arizona became the busiest stretch of the border, and a massive buildup of agents, fences and technology followed. That prompted smugglers to lead crossers through ever-more-remote terrain to avoid detection, making the trek more deadly.
Most bodies end up here, at the Pima County Medical Examiner's Office. The onslaught has transformed the jobs of the forensic-science staff, especially during the scorching summer months when illegal border crossers are found dead almost daily. The office has handled 1,700 bodies in the past decade - 81 this past June and July.
Border crossers make up about 20 percent of the exams done in this office that serves a county of more than 1 million people. But especially in summer, they take up a big chunk of the staff's time. Field agents drive for hours to pick up bodies in remote reaches of the desert. Investigators take fingerprints, snap photos and coordinate with law enforcement and foreign consulates.
It's difficult - and harrowing - work because people found dead in the desert are often robbed of all distinguishing features by searing sunshine and scavenging animals. On top of that, Mexican border crossers commonly die without identification - smugglers tell them not to carry it. And illegal crossers from other countries often carry fake Mexican IDs so if caught they'll be deported just across the border to Nogales, where they can try again.
Continue reading the story by Brady McCombs in the Arizona Daily Star.
Extensive additional coverage can be found here: A Decade of Death.