2010 may see new high in border-crossing deaths

2010 has seen illegal immigration become firmly embedded as a point of contention in the partisan warfare dominating today’s political environment. The passage of Arizona’s immigration law SB1070 (partially blocked by a District Court injunction) earlier this year set the tone. Cable-news chatter about “anchor babies” birthed in the U.S. by undocumented immigrant mothers has accompanied calls for the repeal of birthright citizenship from Republican politicians such as Lindsey Graham and John McCain, who just four years ago worked on comprehensive immigration reform with Democrat Ted Kennedy.

Amid the politics, undocumented migrants continue to pay a human cost in their attempts to enter the U.S. Although illegal immigration as a whole is down in 2010, stronger border enforcement in California and Arizona has pushed attempted migrants to the most inhospitable desert routes, and not without consequence. The Times’ Nicole Santa Cruz reports:

This year, Arizona became known as the state with the toughest policies against illegal immigration. That’s why Deputy Chief Medical Examiner Eric Peters didn’t think the Pima County coroner would see a surge in migrants killed while trying to cross Arizona’s southern deserts.

But despite beefed-up efforts to stem illegal immigration and an economy that makes work harder to come by, migrants are still trying to get into the country. And many are dying.

In 2007, a record 218 bodies were found in Pima County. This year, the death toll could be worse. Already, authorities have recovered the remains of 170 migrants.

“We’re kind of looking at a record-breaking year this year,” Peters said.

Advocacy groups such as Humane Borders, which maintains water stations at and near the U.S.-Mexico border, are working to reduce the deaths. But as long as migrants see no alternative to the crossing, the border will continue to take its toll.