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Deaths at US-Mexico border drop to 15-year low

October 23, 2014

TUCSON, Arizona (AP) — The number of people who die trying to cross the U.S.-Mexico border has dropped to the lowest level in 15 years as more immigrants turn themselves in to authorities in Texas and fewer are taking their chances with the dangerous trek across the Arizona desert.

The U.S. government recorded 307 deaths in the 2014 fiscal year that ended in September — the lowest number since 1999. In 2013, the number of deaths was 445.

The Border Patrol’s Rio Grande Valley sector in Texas finished the 2014 budget year with 115 deaths, compared with 107 in Arizona’s Tucson sector, according to figures obtained by The Associated Press. It marks the first time since 2001 that Arizona has not been the deadliest place to cross the border.

Arizona has long been the most dangerous border region because of triple-digit temperatures, rough desert terrain and the sheer volume of immigrants coming in to the state from Mexico. But more immigrants are now entering through Texas and not Arizona, driven by a surge of people from Central America.

The Tucson and Rio Grande Valley both saw their numbers of deaths decline from 2013, although Arizona’s drop was more precipitous.

Border enforcement officials say the lower numbers are in part due to increased rescue efforts as well as a Spanish-language media campaign discouraging Latin Americans from walking across the border.

Tucson Sector Division Chief Raleigh Leonard says the addition of 10 new rescue beacons that were strategically placed in areas where immigrants traverse most often has been a factor in the decrease in deaths.

“I think we can all agree that crossing the border is an illegal act, but nothing that should be assigned the penalty of death,” Leonard said in an interview.

Immigrant rights advocates are skeptical that it is solely the Border Patrol’s efforts contributing to the decrease in deaths.

“At best, what the Border Patrol is accomplishing is a geographical shift in where these deaths are happening — rather than adequately responding to the scale of the crisis,” said Geoffrey Boyce, a border enforcement and immigration researcher at the University of Arizona and a volunteer with the Tucson-based nonprofit No More Deaths.

The Rio Grande Valley sector was flooded with a surge in unaccompanied minors and families with children who turned themselves in at border crossings in Texas. Most were from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, where gang violence and a poor economy have driven out huge numbers of people. That surge has dwindled recently, however, as U.S. and Central American authorities have launched a public relations campaign warning parents against sending their children to the U.S.

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Alicia A. Caldwell contributed to this report from Washington, D.C.

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Follow Astrid Galván on Twitter at www.twitter.com/astridgalvan

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