A sign near the border in Calexico, California.
Lucy Nicholson / Courtesy Reuters

“When I find a dead body on the land, I have to make a decision right then,” says Lavoyger Durham, a ranch administrator for King Ranch in South Texas, a region along the U.S.-Mexican border that many migrants do not survive. “By the time you discover a body, you usually find buzzards.” “Then,” he continues, ”you’ve got the hogs, the javelinas, the coyotes, the caracaras. Technically, I’m not supposed to do anything with the remains. I’m meant to call the sheriff’s office, Border Patrol, the mortuary, and the justice of the peace, who verifies that the human is dead, but by the time they arrive, the animals have only scattered more dang bones.”

Undocumented migration is lower today than at any other time in the last 40 years, but reported migrant deaths are on the rise. Since 1998, according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, approximately 5,000 migrants have died crossing the border. Most human rights organizations estimate that number is closer to 8,000, since many remains are never recovered. According to Border Patrol statistics, while there were 268 southwest border deaths in 1998, there were 463 deaths reported for fiscal year 2012. 

The places where migrants die are changing,

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  • ANANDA ROSE is the author of Showdown in the Sonoran Desert: Religion, Law, and the Immigration Controversy. Her Web site is AnandaRose.org.
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