Border Patrol undercounts deaths of migrants in Arizona

Los Angeles Times

TUCSON, Ariz. — In December 2015, the U.S. government reported that the number of migrant deaths along the border with Mexico fell for the third straight fiscal year, dropping from 308 in 2104 to 240 in 2015.

Officials attributed the decline to better surveillance of the desert and an improved ability to apprehend migrants stranded there. But some immigrant advocates questioned the meaning of the numbers, suggesting that they presented an incomplete and misleading picture.

Now data from Arizona suggest that the advocates may have been right.

Between 2004 and 2013, the number of deaths in Arizona reported each year by the U.S. Border Patrol was roughly on par with — or greater than — the number recorded by the medical examiner’s office in Pima County, which collects the totals for all four counties along the state’s southern border.

In 2014, however, the state and federal figures began to diverge, with the state reporting 127 deaths and the feds 110. The spread was far greater last year, with the state reporting 143 deaths and the feds 68.

That difference alone — 75 deaths — is more than enough to cancel out the borderwide improvement reported by the feds between 2014 and 2015.

“If this were a plane crash, we would want to know the exact number of people who died,” said Robin Reineke, executive director of the Tucson-based Colibri Center for Human Rights, who was among the first people to notice the discrepancy in the numbers. “That’s how we process the magnitude of an event. But we can’t understand the impact of our border policy if we don’t know how many people it is leading to their deaths.”

The wide disparity in Arizona persisted in the first 11 months of this fiscal year, the most up-to-date figures available, with the feds reporting 75 deaths, or 53 fewer than the state.

Arizona accounts for 360 miles of the 2,000-mile-long U.S. frontier with Mexico. It is unclear whether the federal counts in other states are accurate, because no other entities are compiling the data. In other words, the federal government has no reliable count of the total deaths on the southern border.

Pima County officials aim to include all bodies that are found on the Arizona border, brought to the morgue and identified as migrants. In contrast, the Border Patrol only counts bodies of migrants its agents discover in the field.

The agency declined to answer questions about why its figures in Arizona have diverged so dramatically from the state numbers in the last two years.

“What we can tell you is that we can only represent that which we find,” the agency said, acknowledging that its figures were not the final word on migrant deaths.

That has not stopped the agency from lauding its own figures. “Border Patrol agents working along Arizona’s border with Mexico stepped up their campaign in fiscal year 2015 to save distressed migrants while giving them options to call for help,” the agency said in January. “As a result, agents report finding fewer deceased migrants.”

Uncertainty over migrant deaths on the border is not new.

“Differences among (Border Patrol) coordinators in collecting and recording data on border-crossing deaths may have resulted in the data understating the number of deaths in some regions,” the Government Accountability Office said in a 2006 report.

Even with the large gap between the state and federal numbers for Arizona this year, the Border Patrol is set to report an overall increase in migrant deaths this year along the entire southern border. In the first 11 months of fiscal year 2016, the feds found the bodies of 287 migrants, or 47 more than last year.

Talk to us

More in Local News

The Everett Police Department was investigating a woman's death Sunday morning after a driver hit and killed her on Broadway in north Everett. (Everett Police Department)
Woman killed by suspected impaired driver in Everett

A driver reportedly hit the person, which prompted the closure of Broadway between 17th and 19th streets Sunday morning.

Charges: North Everett murder suspect caught on camera

Jeremiah Stringfellow, 27, is being held on first-degree murder charges for the fatal shooting of Naej Belledent, 22.

Police: Snohomish man fled to Oregon after Arlington shooting

The wounded man, 30, was left in critical condition. The suspect, 39, was arrested for investigation of first-degree assault.

A snow plow clears snow off of 92nd Avenue West on Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2022, in Edmonds, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Another dusting, with more snow on the way in Snohomish County?

Light snow showers hit the area Friday morning. Another system was coming in the evening. And yet another next week.

Pedestrian killed in hit-and-run collision on Highway 99

Glenn Starks was walking on the shoulder south of Everett when a car struck him, police say. The car’s driver ran away from the scene.

Monroe High School (Monroe School District)
‘Set for the next four years’: Monroe schools levy officially passes

The levy funds 14% of the district’s budget including athletics, extracurricular activities and some transportation services.

The Washington State Patrol was investigating a fatal crash involving multiple vehicles Thursday on Highway 530 near Oso. (Washington State Patrol)
Darrington man identified in fatal 4-vehicle crash on Highway 530

Ryan Gray was driving east of Arlington when he rear-ended a Jeep, according to the Washington State Patrol.

Lisa Lefeber, CEO of the Port of Everett, speaks to a crowd while in front of a sign celebrating the opening of the new Norton Terminal on Thursday, Dec. 1, 2022, at the Port of Everett in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Port of Everett christens new Norton cargo terminal

The $40 million terminal took two years to complete and doubles the port’s storage capacity.

Snow lingered outside the office building of Receivables Performance Management on Thursday, Dec. 1, 2022, in Lynnwood, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Lynnwood data breach exposed sensitive info for 3.7 million across US

Lawsuits allege lax security at a debt collection agency led to the attack. It wasn’t announced for over a year.

Most Read