The number of bodies recovered on the Arizona-Mexico border over the past year has hit a new high, according to reports released Thursday by human rights activists and county coroners.
Over the past fiscal year ending October 1, at least 237 people died trying to cross into Arizona. While most were from Mexico and Central America, almost 40% of the victims remain unidentified.
This year's toll is up from the 205 statewide fatalities registered during the previous 12 month period. The data was released by the Tucson-based Coalicion de Derechos Humanos and is based on the death counts compiled by coroners in the counties bordering Mexico.
The majority of this year's deaths, 206, were recorded in Pima County -- directly south of Tucson in the south-central part of the state. The Bush administration, in escalating its border clamp down, has claimed that overall deaths along the border have dipped.
But the figures released today suggest that the human traffic across the southern border has not been stemmed so much as it has been re-directed and re-channeled through some of the more perilous and uninhabited stretches of the Sonoran desert. This year's death toll for Pima County is the highest on record.
"It has been estimated that the lives of more than 5,000 men, women and children have been lost on the U.S.- Mexico border since the mid-1990s," says a statement released today by the Coalicion which keeps a running count of the fatalities. The recovered body count for Arizona has surpassed 200 since the fiscal year 2002-2003, yet the loss of life has been shockingly described by Border Patrol officials as 'collateral damage,'" said the statement.
It was the Clinton administration which began a concerted effort to shut down traditional crossing routes early in its tenure. In the mid 1990's approximately fifty people a year died along the entire U.S.-Mexican border, Over the last decade, that figure has climbed ten-fold. The 237 deaths this past year in Arizona represent about a half of the total number who have died along the entire California to Texas run of the border.