Illegal immigrant deaths along the U.S.-Mexico border have risen in the past six months despite a nearly 25 percent drop in arrests by the Border Patrol, according to patrol statistics.
The number of migrant deaths along the roughly 2,000-mile border increased by nearly 7 percent between Oct. 1, 2008, and March 31, 2009, though apprehensions of people crossing illegally from Mexico into Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California decreased in the same period from a year ago, the patrol said.
Migrant rights groups said the number of deaths directly correlated to increased enforcement along the U.S.-Mexico border.
The rise in deaths was "the direct result of more agents, more fencing and more equipment" the Rev. Robin Hoover, founder of the Tucson-based Humane Borders, which provides water stations for migrants crossing the southern Arizona desert, said Tuesday. "The migrants are walking in more treacherous terrain for longer periods of time, and you should expect more deaths."
The remains of 128 people were found during the six-month period, compared to 120 in the same period a year earlier, the patrol said. But apprehensions of those crossing illegally from Mexico into the United States decreased more than 24 percent compared to the number of arrests from the same period a year ago.
The number of arrests is generally considered an indication of how many people are illegally crossing the border, with increasing apprehensions indicating more crossings into the country. Fewer than 265,000 arrests were made between October and March, the patrol said.
Dr. Bruce Parks, the medical examiner in southern Arizona's Pima County, said many of the bodies found were skeletal remains, indicating that some deaths could have taken place "more than a year or two" ago, when more people had been crossing.
But Border Patrol spokesman Mar Candelabra, who represents the Tucson sector that saw a 30 percent increase in deaths from the same period a year before, said it was hard to say why deaths increased, especially because the bodies were not found in the summer when triple-digit desert heat is often fatal.
Hoover said locations where bodies had been found were farther away from roads than in previous years, indicating the migrants were taking greater risks to avoid capture.
"So they're going around the fences, the technology and where the agents are," he said. "And the further you walk from a safe place, the more likely a broken ankle becomes a death sentence."