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Immigration Law

How a Medical Examiner’s Office Transformed to Address Migrant Deaths

Caroline Tracey, High Country News, Sept. 19, 2022

"The Pima County Office of the Medical Examiner began to coordinate its response to migrant death in May of 2002, when 14 people — 13 migrants and a suspected guide who remains unidentified to this day — died in the desert southeast of Yuma, Arizona, on a 115-degree day. They were found more than 50 miles from the highway, headed in the wrong direction. “It hit us over the head like a brick, like a bunch of bricks, that there was a change occurring,” said former Chief Medical Examiner Bruce Parks, Hess’ predecessor. “And the numbers kept going up.” Since then, the office has classified 3,600 deaths in its electronic records system as “Unidentified Border Crossers.” They have identified about 66% of them, according to forensic anthropologist Bruce Anderson. (Forensic anthropologists study bone, whereas medical examiners are pathologists, doctors who specialize in soft tissue.) That rate is much higher than those of Borderlands medical examiners in Texas or California."