Migrant Deaths in Southern Arizona: Recovered Undocumented Border Crosser Remains Investigated by the Pima County Office of the Medical Examiner, 1990-2020

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See all articles by Daniel Martinez

Daniel Martinez

University of Arizona

Robin Reineke

The School of Anthropology

Geoffrey Boyce

Earlham College

Samuel Chambers

University of Arizona

Sarah Launius

University of Arizona

Bruce Anderson

Pima County Office of Medical Examiner

Gregory Hess

Pima County Office of Medical Examiner

Jennifer M. Vollner

Pima County Office of Medical Examiner

Bruce Parks

Pima County Office of Medical Examiner

Caitlin C.M. Vogelsberg

Pima County Office of Medical Examiner

Gabriella Soto

Arizona State University (ASU)

Michael Kreyche

Kent State University

Raquel Rubio-Goldsmith

Binational Migration Institute

Date Written: April 21, 2021

Abstract

Thousands of undocumented border crossers have died while attempting to cross the US-México border since the 1990s. Prior studies have found that these deaths are a consequence of increased border enforcement efforts as well as of economic, political, and social conditions in immigrant-sending countries and in the United States. The present study contributes to this expanding body of literature. Drawing on data from the Pima County Office of the Medical Examiner (PCOME), we provide information on the recovery of human remains either known or believed to be of undocumented border crossers in southern Arizona between FY 1990 and 2020. We find that during this period the remains of at least 3,356 undocumented border crossers were recovered in the region, with the majority being found since 2005. US Border Patrol apprehensions, which immigration scholars often use as proxy for undocumented migration trends, have decreased in that agency’s Tucson Sector since the mid-2000s. However, the rate of recovered remains of undocumented border crossers has largely increased even as apprehensions have declined, which is a dynamic that suggests undocumented migration in southern Arizona has become increasingly dangerous. We also find that the remains of undocumented border crossers were increasingly recovered from more remote areas of southern Arizona over time, which further supports this assertion. The PCOME records we examined over our study period suggest that migrants who have died in southern Arizona are largely male (84%), and, among identified decedents, 20-49 years of age (82%) and from México (80%). Most perished due to exposure (38%) or an undetermined cause of death (48%), and were successfully identified post-mortem (64%). Nevertheless, as highlighted throughout this report, we find important changes in the breakdown of these factors across time, for which we offer possible explanations. Our hope is that policymakers and the public will consider the data presented in this report, as access to empirical evidence is crucial when formulating public policy and when addressing the root causes of critical social concerns such as border-crosser deaths along the US-México border.

Suggested Citation

Martinez, Daniel and Reineke, Robin and Boyce, Geoffrey and Chambers, Samuel and Launius, Sarah and Anderson, Bruce and Hess, Gregory and Vollner, Jennifer M. and Parks, Bruce and Vogelsberg, Caitlin C.M. and Soto, Gabriella and Kreyche, Michael and Rubio-Goldsmith, Raquel, Migrant Deaths in Southern Arizona: Recovered Undocumented Border Crosser Remains Investigated by the Pima County Office of the Medical Examiner, 1990-2020 (April 21, 2021). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=

Daniel Martinez (Contact Author)

University of Arizona ( email )

United States

Robin Reineke

The School of Anthropology ( email )

Department of History
Tucson, AZ 85721
United States

Geoffrey Boyce

Earlham College

Samuel Chambers

University of Arizona

Sarah Launius

University of Arizona

Bruce Anderson

Pima County Office of Medical Examiner ( email )

Gregory Hess

Pima County Office of Medical Examiner ( email )

Jennifer M. Vollner

Pima County Office of Medical Examiner

Bruce Parks

Pima County Office of Medical Examiner ( email )

Caitlin C.M. Vogelsberg

Pima County Office of Medical Examiner

Gabriella Soto

Arizona State University (ASU) ( email )

Michael Kreyche

Kent State University

Raquel Rubio-Goldsmith

Binational Migration Institute ( email )

Department of History
Tucson, AZ 85721
United States

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