Tallying fewer crossings, UN agency reports rise in migrant deaths at US-Mexico border

4 August 2017

Even as the flow appears to have thinned, migrants crossing the United States-Mexico border are dying at a faster rate in 2017 than in past years, according to a new United Nations agency study.

“Some 232 migrant fatalities have been recorded in the first seven months of 2017, an increase of 17 per cent compared with the 204 deaths recorded between January and July 2016,” said Julia Black, coordinator of the Berlin-based Missing Migrants Project (MMP) at the International Organization for Migration's (IOM) Global Migration Data Analysis Centre.

“These numbers are especially concerning considering that, according to US Border Patrol figures, fewer migrants seem to be crossing into the US in 2017. The US Border Patrol has apprehended 140,024 migrants between January and June 2017, about half the number recorded in the first six months of 2016,” she added.

“Fifty bodies were recorded as discovered in July, the most recorded in any month so far this year,” Ms. Black said, explaining that their remains were found across the border region.

“Nine were recorded in various locations along the Río Grande; ten in a truck in San Antonio, Texas; and 16 in other locations in Texas,” she elaborated.

Fifteen others were recovered in Arizona's Pima County, a notoriously dangerous crossing, where seasonal temperatures regularly soar above 100 degrees Fahrenheit or 38 degrees Celsius between the months of May and September. So far this year, 96 bodies have been recovered in Pima County.

According to the briefing, its Missing Migrants Project has recorded more than 1,250 migrant fatalities on the US-Mexico border since 2014.

MMP staff reflecting on the deaths see each as an individual tragedy that serve as reminders of the many migrants who continue to risk their lives pursuing their 'Sueño Americano,' or 'American Dream.'

Although the story of 10 migrants who died trapped in the back of a tractor-trailer in Texas last Sunday was covered in the media, most recorded deaths in the border region – which occur in single digits on a nearly daily basis throughout the summer – rarely make headlines.

Many of those pursuing el Sueño Americano travel from Mexico to Texas, compelled to cross the swift-flowing Río Grande to the US.

For example, on Wednesday, a five-year-old child migrant drowned in the Río Grande near Tamaulipas, Mexico, as the father went missing during the river crossing.

According to the IOM, 57 people drowned in the border river in 2017 – a 54 per cent hike over the 37 deaths recorded in the Río Grande between January and July 2016.

IOM's office in Mexico cites heavy rainfall in recent months, which has made the river faster and deeper, as a possible cause for the increase. However, the upsurge in migrant deaths in other border areas, such as the Arizona desert, remains unexplained.

Though migrant fatalities on the US-Mexico border represent 65 per cent of the total number recorded in the Americas, it is likely that many migrant deaths occur in Central and Southern America that go unrecorded. Notably, several bodies, presumed to be migrants, were seen floating off the coast of Nicaragua on Tuesday; another migrant was killed near Oaxaca, Mexico on Sunday after being struck by a train; and another, from El Salvador, was the victim of a stabbing.

Noting that the true number of migrant fatalities in 2017 is likely to be higher than the MMP indicates, Ms. Black concluded by pointing out that “it's something that is true for all regions of the world, unfortunately.”


♦ Receive daily updates directly in your inbox - Subscribe here to a topic.
♦ Download the UN News app for your iOS or Android devices.