The person whose remains appear in the photos was almost surely an undocumented migrant making his or her way through the desert to work in the United States (that is, someone who could not secure a visa to enter and work in the U.S. legally).
This person likely died of dehydration (lack of water) or hyperthermia (elevated body temperature) during a 4-day trek in temperatures that reach 115 degrees in the summer. Maybe this person sprained an ankle and got left behind by the human smuggler. Maybe he or she used the bathroom and was unable to catch up to the group.
The desert is massive and confusing. It’s hard to tell which way is which. People get lost. And if you get lost, you’re chances of surviving are slim. There’s no way to carry enough water for the 4 days it usually takes to make this trip. Adding an extra day or two because of a wrong turn is almost certain death.
Read The Devil’s Highway, one of my favorite books, for a much more eloquent account.
In 2004, the Arizona Daily Star started the Border Deaths Database, a compilation of records from medical examiners in Arizona counties that border Mexico. The Star counted a record 225 deaths in the Arizona desert between January 1 and October 31 of 2010. This means that about 1 migrant died in the Arizona desert everyday last year.
The actual number who die in the desert is surely higher the Star‘s tally. No one really knows how many migrants die out there because the desert is so expansive and so much of it is rarely explored. There are likely remains of hundreds of bodies that have yet to be found and accounted for.
Maybe just as tragic as the deaths themselves is the fact that all of this could be prevented with an immigration policy that is consistent with our labor market’s demand for workers who are willing to do jobs that Americans generally don’t want. But because immigration reform threatens the career prospects of both Democrats and Republicans, we’re not likely to see changes anytime soon. As these photos show, their inaction has real human consequences.
All photos courtesy of Bob Kee