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Sunday, 27 July 2014 09:23 By Bethania Palma Markus, Truthout
The sun-bleached bones of a human skeleton lay in disarray: the skull rolled on its crown, an S-curved spinal column about two feet away. Leg bones were in a haphazard pile. There were personal items too – a wallet, pair of walking shoes and a dirt-caked T-shirt.
They belonged to a man, most likely a migrant who had faced off with the Sonoran Desert in an attempt to come north. While most attention on immigration has been directed recently at the human drama unfolding around a surge of children fleeing from Central American countries, the immigrant death toll on the US-Mexico border has quietly exploded, even as undocumented migration overall has plummeted.
The bones were found by Aguilas del Desierto (Eagles of the Desert), an all-volunteer search-and-rescue organization, in the blistering Arizona desert heat of the Organ Pipe Cactus national park just south of Ajo, a sparsely populated region of Pima County that neighbors the Mexican border. As many were hunkering over barbecues or lighting off fireworks, these men rolled out of California on a 300-mile trek across Interstate 8. I rode shotgun in long-time volunteer and Marine Corps veteran Vicente Rodriguez’s old red Forerunner.
Roughly once a month, they leave their families and personal lives to take these trips and plunge into some of the country’s most inhospitable landscapes. They hail from different walks of life – a roofer, a photographer, a medical supply importer, a gardening business owner, a water technician. But their common goal is finding at least some of the hundreds who die every year traversing the borderlands.
According to US Border Patrol statistics, 477 people died crossing in 2012, and 445 died crossing in 2013. The numbers have steadily shot up since 1998, when 263 died, according to the agency’s statistics. A total of almost 7,000 people have died between 1998 and 2013. But the true number is likely higher, considering many are never found.
Throttling along the hot pavement with no air conditioner to speak of, Vicente was blunt about the search prospects.
“Most of the time we are looking for a dead person – cadavers,” he said. “By the time [the migrant group] makes it out of the desert, several days have passed. Lack of water and heat is usually what kills them.”
As we drove with hot air roaring through open windows and volunteers Danny Morales and Ricardo Equivias passing time cracking jokes in the backseat, the border fence came into view and snaked along to my right. Vicente started pointing out seemingly innocuous geographical features that form a killer gauntlet for migrants. Enough people drowned in drinking water Borderland Deaths of Migrants Quietly Reach Crisis Numbers | Larry Miller's Blog: Educate All Students!: