2009 Marks the Deadliest Year for Crossing Arizona/Mexico Border

For those of us who live in Tucson, Arizona the story goes beyond economics and becomes one of survival, as desperate men, women and children die in the desert we call home.
03/18/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Produced by HuffPost's Eyes & Ears Citizen Journalism Unit.

For the border state of Arizona, the year 2009 will be remembered for a marked decline in Mexicans migrating to the United States, a trend many economists attribute to the loss of jobs in the still-struggling American economy. But here in the Sonoran Desert, 2009 will also be remembered as possibly the most lethal year for the Arizona/Mexican border.

According to a report in Tucson's Arizona Daily Star,the number of bodies recovered in the Tucson sector of the Mexican border in fiscal year 2009 (October 1, 2008 - September 30, 2009) was 206, the third highest ever recorded. But the article also shows that when comparing known deaths to apprehensions of migrants, 2009 was the most lethal year in history: the ratio for 2009 was 88 deaths to every 100,000 migrants apprehended, in 1998, the ratio was 3 deaths for 100,000 apprehensions.

Underlying these statistics is the ongoing effort to beef up border security. The Obama administration, like the administrations preceding it, has taken a strong stand on cracking down on migrants crossing the Mexican border, adding a 'virtual fence' of steel towers with infrared sensors, remote controlled cameras, radar, lighting and communications devices to the physical fences already in place. But the fact that deaths continue to rise against this backdrop of increases surveillance comes as no surprise to groups that monitor border fatalities. Isabel Garcia, head of the Tucson-based human rights organization Coalicion de Derechos Humanos (The Human Rights Coalition), told Nogales International Bulletin that "an increase of military and police-natured responses lead to more deaths. Even though less people are crossing, more people are dying."

The non profit organization No More Deaths/No Mas Muertes, also based in Tucson, has long believed that the increase in surveillance drives desperate people deeper and deeper into the desert, making survival more difficult. They state this belief in their December 2009 newsletter, stating, "The border blockade strategy has militarized the U.S./Mexico border, which drives migrants into remote desert regions." The group, bearing the motto 'Humanitarian Aid is Never a Crime,' recruits volunteers to illegally deposit water, food and blankets to help migrants survive the harsh Sonoran Desert, working with other border groups toward their goal "to end this needless death and suffering in the desert by providing humanitarian aid while advocating for a more humane and just reform of current immigration policies."

For most of the nation, the U.S. Mexican border story is one of economics. For those of us who live in Tucson, Arizona the story goes beyond economics and becomes one of survival, as desperate men, women and children die in the desert we call home. Garcia feels "we have not seen the worst of it yet," leading this reporter to wonder how high the toll must be before the rest of the nation takes notice.

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