Migrant deaths along the Mexico–United States border

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Border Patrol sign in California warning "Caution! Do not expose your life to the elements. It's not worth it!"

Migrant deaths along the Mexico–U.S. border occur hundreds of times a year because of those attempting to cross into the United States from Mexico illegally.[1] The number of deaths increased in the mid-1990s with exposure (including heat stroke, dehydration, and hyperthermia) being the leading cause.[2]

According to the United States Border Patrol, 1,954 people died crossing the U.S–Mexico border between the years 1998-2004.[3] In the fiscal year ending September 29, 2004, 460 migrants died crossing the U.S.-Mexico border.[4] In 2005, more than 500 died across the entire U.S.-Mexico border.[5] The number of yearly border crossing deaths has doubled since 1995.[6] In 2009, 417 deaths were reported across the border.[7] Yet the statistics cited by scholars and the media are only the number of known deaths and do not include those who have never been found, underestimating the actual number of migrants that have died attempting unauthorized border crossings.[8]

Mexico's Secretariat of Foreign Affairs has compiled data including deaths on the Mexican side of the border area during the period from 1994 to 2000. The data shows 87 deaths in 1996, 149 in 1997, 329 in 1998, 358 in 1999, and 499 in 2000.[9]


The Arizona Daily Star maintained a database of border deaths recorded by the Pima, Santa Cruz, Cochise, and Yuma County medical examiners between summer 2004 and September 2006.[10] They stated, "With no official record-keeping system, the exact number of illegal entrants who have died along the Arizona stretch of U.S.-Mexican border has never been known".[11]

The number of dead border crossing migrants per year in Arizona increased from nine in 1990 to 201 in 2005; about 80% of the dead migrants were under 40 during 2000-2005, with an increasing number younger than 18.[12][13][14]


A study by the Center for Immigration Research at the University of Houston found that, "In the late 1980s, the number of foreign transient deaths usually exceeded 300, and peaked in 1988 at 355. Thereafter, the number of deaths fell to 180 in 1993 and 1994. After 1994 the number of deaths started to increase again, peaking in 2000 at 370. Border Patrol counts for 2001 and 2002 show a small decrease in the number of deaths in those years compared to 2000."[15]

The number of deaths of illegal immigrants along the border has increased on a regular, yearly basis since the middle 1990s, particularly in the state of Arizona.[2] As of summer 2006, tighter enforcement in Arizona has likely lead to fewer deaths there, but border wide fatalities were approaching the record pace of 2005.[16][17]

In 2012, the United States Border Patrol found the remains of 463 migrants in the US, of which 177 were discovered along the section of the border near Tucson, Arizona.[18] The Rio Grande Valley of South Texas reported 150 migrant remains found, a jump from 2011 due to the increased numbers of Central American migrants.[18][19]


A common cause of immigrant border deaths is drowning in canals, ditches, and the Rio Grande.[20]


Significant numbers of illegal immigrants die in car accidents and other accidental causes. According to a December 2006 cover story in the San Diego Reader, "...traffic fatalities involving immigrants have more than doubled since 2003 as coyotes, or polleros — the guides leading migrants across the border — try other methods. On August 7, nine migrants died in a crash in the Yuma sector when the driver of a Chevrolet Suburban — in which 21 Mexicans were "stacked like cordwood[21] — lost control after crossing a Border Patrol spike strip at high speed. This year the number killed in traffic accidents during illegal crossings is about 50."[22]

In January 2003, two illegal immigrant passengers died when their truck crashed on Interstate 8 while fleeing the Border Patrol, after a spike strip punctured a tire.[23] A week after the accident, a third person, Elvia Rumbo Leyva, died in the hospital.[24]

Close to one hundred illegal immigrants were struck and killed on San Diego County freeways over a five-year span in the late 1980s, prompting the creation of a highway safety sign to caution drivers about migrants crossing the road.[25]

Incidents of Border Patrol use of force

According to Rodolfo Acuña,[26] Professor Emeritus of Chicano Studies at California State University, "Mexico's Ministry of Foreign Affairs reported 117 cases of human rights abuses by US officials against migrants from 1988 to 1990, including fourteen deaths. During the 1980s, Border Patrol agents shot dozens of people, killing eleven and permanently disabling ten."[27]

On May 28, 1994, Martín García Martínez was shot by a Border Patrol agent at the San Ysidro port of entry. He died on July 3 as a result of his injuries.[28]

In May 2000, an illegal immigrant was shot in the shoulder by a border patrolman near Brownsville, Texas, and died later from the wounds.[29]

Under the Border Patrol's use-of-force guidelines, agents are permitted to employ lethal force against rock throwers if they pose a threat.[30] Large rocks have seriously injured many agents and many agents have resorted to wearing riot gear as a result. In January 2006, an eight-year veteran of the Border Patrol, fearful of stones which were being thrown at him [31] shot Guillermo Martinez Rodriguez, a known people smuggler who had been detained 11 times prior.[32] Rodriguez, with a gunshot to the back of his right shoulder, crossed back to Mexico and was taken to the Red Cross in Tijuana where he died twenty-five and a half hours later from the injury.[33]

In January 2007, border patrol agent Nicholas Corbett shot and killed Francisco Javier Domínguez Rivera.[34] after the latter tried to smash his head with a rock according to the officer's lawyer.[35] After the agent was acquitted of wrongdoing, a civil suit was filed on behalf of Rivera's parents. This civil suit claimed that the United States government was responsible for wrongful death of Rivera due to the fact that the agent was performing his official duty.[35] Mexico lodged an official protest with the United States over the death stating its “firm condemnation” and “serious concern over the recurrence of this type of incident.” The protest demanded an exhaustive investigation.[36][37] Though the incident was recorded by surveillance cameras, the recording was not very clear.[38]

On May 28, 2010, Anastasio Rojas, a 42-year-old Mexican migrant worker, was tased and beaten at the San Ysidro border crossing by more than a dozen Customs and Border Protection officers.[39][40][41] Rojas' death was featured on the PBS News Magazine "Need to Know" in April 2012, in which several civilian eyewitnesses gave their testimony and provided two amateur videos of the event. According to the witnesses, he was facedown on the ground and handcuffed while he was being tased and beaten, all the while being surrounded by twelve officers. His pleas for help is clearly audible on the amateur footage. In the hours before Rojas' death, he had tried to file a complaint against a Border Patrol officer for kicking his injured ankle, that officer and another officer would later drive Rojas to the border alone at night, soon after Rojas sustained fatal injuries.[42] Since the initial broadcast of "Need to Know", 16 members of congress have demanded a justice department investigation into Anastasio Rojas' death while in Border Patrol's custody, which is currently under way.[43] He leaves behind a wife and five children.[42]

On June 2010, a 15-year-old Mexican citizen was shot to death on the Mexican side of the border near El Paso, Texas. The U.S Border Patrol reported that the officers responded to a group of suspected illegal immigrants who were throwing rocks at them. President Felipe Calderón criticized the shooting by stating that "the use of firearms to repel attacks with stones represents disproportionate use of force".[39][44]

Vigilante killings

According to Time Magazine, in the first half of 2000, three immigrants were killed and seven others wounded in showdowns on the U.S. side of the border.[45][46] In 2000, the United Nations opened an investigation into vigilante killings of migrants crossing Mexico's border with the USA, dispatching a senior UN investigator to the border country close to where Sam Blackwood, a 74-year-old rancher, was charged with killing Eusebio de Haro,[47] an unarmed Mexican he tried to subdue for the border patrol and fatally shot in the back of the thigh[clarification needed] after pursuing him a quarter mile down the road in his truck.[48] [49]

Intentional killings

On February 8, 2007, four gunmen of unknown nationality opened fire on a truck carrying illegal immigrants in the Ironwood Forest National Monument, killing two men and a 15-year-old girl.[50] The incident was covered on the front page of every major newspaper in Mexico City[dead link].

Impact on border communities

The impact of migrant deaths on border communities can be difficult for small towns on the US side, which have found themselves with hundreds of remains to identify and bury, at a cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars.[51] In November 2013 the Office of the Medical Examiner in Pima County, Arizona, had 871 cases of unidentified remains dating as far back as the 1990s.[19]

International consequences

The deaths have caused tension between the United States and other countries, particularly Mexico and the countries of Central America,[citation needed] from where a majority of illegal immigrants that enter the United States through the Southwestern borders come. Foreign consulates across the Southwest United States, in particular those of Latin American countries, have condemned the deaths of illegal immigrants across the border.[52]

See also


  1. United States Government Accounting Office. GAO-06-770, August 2006.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Eschbach, K., J. Hagan and N. Rodriguez (2001): Causes and Trends in Migrant Deaths Along the U.S.-Mexico Border 1985-1998. Center for Immigration Research, University of Houston (Executive Summary).
  3. "Southwest: New Mexico: A Mass For Border Crossers". The New York Times. November 3, 2004.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Richard Marosi: Border Crossing Deaths Set a 12-Month Record. Los Angeles Times, October 1, 2005.
  5. PBS Frontline (June 27, 2006): U.S.-Mexico Border: The Season of Death
  6. United States Government Accountability Office (August 2006). "GAO-06-770 Illegal Immigration: Border-Crossing Deaths Have Doubled Since 1995" (PDF). United States Government Accountability Office.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. http://www.azcentral.com/news/articles/2010/05/07/20100507immigrants-border-deaths.html#ixzz0ymgiHdZ5 U.S. laws blamed for migrant deaths. The Arizona Republic
  8. "Unauthorized Border Crosser Death along the Arizona/ Sonora border" (PDF). Arizona Department of Health Services. 2007-06. Check date values in: |date= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. Wayne A. Cornelius (2001): Death at the Border: The Efficacy and “Unintended” Consequences of U.S. Immigration Control Policy 1993-2000. The Center for Comparative Immigration Studies University of California, San Diego.
  10. Arizona Daily Star Border Death Database
  11. http://regulus.azstarnet.com/borderdeaths/search.php, retrieved 14 May 2006[dead link]
  12. Isabel C. Morales (2007-02-15). "Funnel effect blamed for leap in border deaths". Dallas Morning News.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. Raquel Rubio-Goldsmith, M. Melissa McCormick, Daniel Martinez & Inez Magdalena Duarte (2007). "A Humanitarian Crisis at the Border: New Estimates of Deaths Among Unauthorized Immigrants" (pdf). Immigration Policy Center. <templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. Raquel Rubio-Goldsmith, M. Melissa McCormick, Daniel Martinez, Inez Magdalena Duarte (2006-10). "The "Funnel Effect" & Recovered Bodies of Unauthorised Migrants Processed by the Pima County Office of the Medical Examiner, 1990-2005" (PDF). Binational Migration Institute, Mexican American Studies & Research Center at the University of Arizona. Check date values in: |date= (help) <templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. Karl Eschbach, Jacqueline Hagan, Nestor Rodríguez (2003): Deaths during illegal migration: trends and policy implications in the new era of homeland security. In In Defense of the Alien, Vol. 26, pp. 37-52.
  16. San Diego Union-Tribune (July 22, 2006): Border deaths on record pace
  17. Apprehensions, Rescues, Deaths 2005-2006. The San Diego Union-Tribune, July 27, 2006.
  18. 18.0 18.1 Isacson, Adam. "A Big Shift in Migration, and the Importance of Search and Rescue". Washington Office on Latin America. 11 December 2013. Retrieved 20 February 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  19. 19.0 19.1 Isacson, Adam, Maureen Meyer and Ashley Davis. "Border Security and Migration: A Report from Arizona". Washington Office on Latin America. 5 December 2013. Retrieved 20 February 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  20. Eschbach, Karl; Hagan, Jacqueline; Rodriguez, Nestor; Hernandez-Leon, Ruben; Bailey, Stanley (1999), "Death at the Border", International Migration Review, The Center for Migration Studies of New York, 33 (2)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  21. Risky Measures by Smugglers Increase Tolls on Immigrants
  22. Stephen Dobyns. Border Angels. San Diego Reader, Dec 7, 2006.
  23. Roth, Alex (2003-01-15). "Fleeing truck driver pleads not guilty in deaths of two". The San Diego Union-Tribune. Retrieved 2008-07-31.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  24. Soto, Onell R. (2003-07-17). "Woman says driver was prepared to die". The San Diego Union-Tribune. Retrieved 2008-07-31.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  25. Berestein, Leslie (2005-04-10). "Highway safety sign becomes running story on immigration". The San Diego Union-Tribune. Retrieved 2008-07-31.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  26. Acuna, Rodolfo F. (2006-04-23). "A day without immigrants? Yes". Daily News (New York). Archived from the original on 2006-04-24. Retrieved 2008-07-31.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  27. Rodolfo Acuña: Murder in Arizona . . . It's Only The Third World La Prensa San Diego, Volume XXIV Number 24~ June 16, 2000
  28. Human Rights Watch (1995): Human Rights Abuses Along the U.S. Border with Mexico Persist Amid Climate of Impunity
  29. McGirk, Jan; Gumbel, Andrew (2000-05-24). "UN envoy is sent to investigate Rio Grande shootings by posses of vigilante ranchers". London: The Independent. Retrieved 2008-07-31.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  30. Marosi, Richard (2008-02-16). "Agent cleared in 2005 border shooting". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2010-05-12.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  31. Kahn, Carrie (2006-01-23). "Border Shooting Death Raises U.S.-Mexico Tensions". All Things Considered. NPR. Retrieved 2008-07-31.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  32. SignOnSanDiego.com > News > Mexico - U.S. official: Mexican shot after illegally crossing American border was known migrant smuggler
  33. http://www.sre.gob.mx/english/events/guillermo_case.htm
  34. "FBI to Investigate Shooting Death of Mexican Immigrant by Border Patrol in U.S." Fox News Channel. 2007-01-16. Retrieved 2008-07-31.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  35. 35.0 35.1 Douglas, Arizona : News : Making sense of filings in legal case against agent who shot immigrant : Douglas Dispatch, Arizona
  36. "Mexico protests death of illegal immigrant in U.S." The San Diego Union-Tribune. 2007-01-16.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  37. "Relatives bury Mexican migrant shot by Border Patrol in Arizona". The San Diego Union-Tribune. 2007-01-22. Retrieved 2008-07-31.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  38. "Border Patrol video camera recorded immigrant's shooting". Tucson Citizen. 2007-01-19. Retrieved 2008-07-31.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  39. 39.0 39.1 "Mexico anger high as US Border Patrol kills teen". Retrieved 3 September 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  40. Popescu, Roxana. "Deadly patrols: Political climate limits prosecutions in border shootings". Retrieved 22 July 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  41. FLORIDO, ADRIAN. "Calls For Justice In Tasing Death". Retrieved 22 July 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  42. 42.0 42.1 "PBS Need to Know, Crossing the Line". Retrieved 22 July 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  43. "PBS Need to Know, Crossing the Line part 2". Retrieved 22 July 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  44. "Mexican teen shot to death by U.S. Border Patrol agent". Retrieved 3 September 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  45. Time McGirk: Border Clash. Time Magazine, June 26, 2000.
  46. The Independent (May 20, 2000): Mexico asks UN for help to stop ranch 'posses' hunting migrants[1]
  47. The Independent (24 May 2000): UN envoy is sent to investigate Rio Grande shootings by posses of vigilante ranchers
  48. John Gonzalez. Rancher Convicted in Immigrant's Death. Houston Chronicle (Reuters), August 25, 2001. Alternative source.
  49. Pauline Arrillaga: Border war. Associated Press. August 20, 2000
  50. Archibold, Randal C. (2007-02-09). "Illegal Immigrants Slain in an Attack in Arizona". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-07-31.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  51. "Immigrant deaths surge in South Texas county". The Associated Press. 21 December 2012. Retrieved 20 February 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  52. "Follow-up to the Guillermo Martínez Rodríguez case". Secretaría de Relaciones Exteriores - México. 2006-01-05. Archived from the original on September 27, 2007. Retrieved 2008-07-31.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links