Immigration Law

Investigation Documents Undercount of Border Deaths

Rob O'Dell, Daniel González, Jill Castellano, Beatriz Alvarado and Rafael Carranza, the Arizona Republic, Dec. 14, 2017 - "Across sandy Texas scrubland, along swift-moving California canals, in searing Arizona deserts and within remote New Mexico canyons, the bodies of hundreds of immigrants who died illegally crossing the southwestern border with Mexico are found each year.

Border Patrol agents encounter some of the dead, and count them in the agency's annual report that constitutes the only official reckoning of the death toll.

But an investigation by the USA TODAY NETWORK has found many migrant deaths are never accounted for — including when bodies are discovered by sheriff’s deputies, police, ranchers, hikers and humanitarian groups.

Illegal crossings along the southwestern border have claimed 7,209 lives over the past 20 years, according to official Border Patrol statistics, but the actual number is far higher.

A USA TODAY NETWORK investigation found federal authorities largely fail to count border crossers when their remains are recovered by local authorities, and even local counts are often incomplete.

Network reporters spent nine months attempting to build the most complete count ever of border-crosser deaths in California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas from 2012 to 2016, to reveal how many are missed. That effort found many more deaths than the Border Patrol's official number. In three of those states, the USA TODAY NETWORK found anywhere from 25 percent to nearly 300 percent more migrant deaths over five years."