The 'Funnel Effect' & Recovered Bodies of Unauthorized Migrants Processed by the Pima County Office of the Medical Examiner, 1990-2005

97 Pages Posted: 21 Sep 2017

See all articles by Raquel Rubio-Goldsmith

Raquel Rubio-Goldsmith

Binational Migration Institute

Melissa McCormick


Daniel Martinez

University of Arizona

Inez Duarte


Date Written: October 1, 2006


The Binational Migration Institute (BMI) of the University of Arizona’s Mexican American Studies and Research Center (MASRC) has undertaken a unique and scientifically rigorous study of all of the unauthorized border-crosser (UBC) deaths examined by the Pima County Medical Examiner’s Office (PCMEO) from 1990-2005. Because the PCMEO has handled approximately 90% of all of the UBC recovered bodies in the U.S. Border Patrol’s Tucson Sector, an analysis of such deaths serves as both an accurate reflection of the major characteristics of all known UBC deaths that have occurred in this sector, as well as an exact, previously unavailable portrayal of the UBC bodies that have been handled by the overburdened PCMEO since 1990.

BMI has also created a comprehensive and reliable set of criteria that can be used to better count and describe known UBC deaths throughout the entire U.S. A reliable analysis of known UBC deaths in the Tucson Sector is important for many reasons, but especially because, according to all available figures produced by the U.S. government and the academic community, a comparison of the totals of such deaths for each of the 9 Border Patrol sectors along the US/Mexico border, shows that the Tucson Sector in southern Arizona has been the site of the vast majority of known UBC deaths, or to use a more accurate phrase, UBC recovered bodies, in the new millennium. The results of the BMI study, which are confirmed by comparable research, show that there has been an exponential increase in the number of UBC recovered bodies handled by the PCMEO from 1990 to 2005, thereby creating a major public health and humanitarian crisis in the deserts of Arizona.

Over this period of time, the PCMEO has examined 927 UBC recovered bodies, that is, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO 2006), at least 78% of the unprecedented increase in known border-crossing deaths along the entire southwest border of the U.S. from 1990-2003.

The BMI study was also specifically designed to test the much-discussed causal, structural link between the “funnel effect” created by U.S. immigration control policies and the immense increase in known UBC deaths. These so-called prevention-through-deterrence measures, initially implemented in the mid- to late-1990s, that intentionally redirected hundreds-of-thousands of unauthorized migrants away from previously busy crossing points in California and Texas into Arizona’s perilous and deadly landscape. BMI’s findings unambiguously confirm previous evidence that such U.S. policies did create the “funnel effect” and that it is indeed the primary structural cause of death of thousands of North American, Central American, and South American unauthorized men, women, and children who have died while trying to enter the U.S.

Keywords: migrant deaths, unauthorized migration, border deaths, death, funnel effect, border enforcement

Suggested Citation

Rubio-Goldsmith, Raquel and McCormick, Melissa and Martinez, Daniel and Duarte, Inez, The 'Funnel Effect' & Recovered Bodies of Unauthorized Migrants Processed by the Pima County Office of the Medical Examiner, 1990-2005 (October 1, 2006). Available at SSRN: or

Raquel Rubio-Goldsmith

Binational Migration Institute ( email )

Department of History
Tucson, AZ 85721
United States

Melissa McCormick

Independent ( email )

Daniel Martinez (Contact Author)

University of Arizona ( email )

United States

Inez Duarte


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