The recently completed fiscal year set a record for deaths along a stretch of Arizona's border with Mexico.

The bodies of 252 illegal border crossers were found along Arizona's border from New Mexico to Yuma County from Oct. 1, 2009, to Sept. 30, 2010, the Arizona Daily Star's border death database shows. The database is based on information from Southern Arizona county medical examiners.

The 2010 total breaks the record of 234 set in 2007. It has been a deadly decade in Arizona's desert for illegal immigrants, with the bodies of nearly 2,000 men, women and children found since 2001.

The Pima County Medical Examiner's Office handled most of the bodies again this fiscal year: 228 of the 252. The office receives bodies found on the Tohono O'odham Nation and in Pima, Pinal and Santa Cruz counties.

The office recovered the bodies of 59 illegal border crossers in July alone. This summer tied with 1996 as the second-hottest Tucson summer on record.

It's difficult to determine exactly how much it costs taxpayers to perform the work because the recoveries, autopsies and investigations are blended with the rest of the county-funded office's work. But each autopsy runs about $2,000, which means the 228 done over the past fiscal year would add up to about $456,000.

The record for deaths comes during a fiscal year when the Border Patrol's Tucson Sector recorded reduced apprehensions for the sixth consecutive year. The downturn in arrests is one of several indicators that show significantly fewer people are illegally crossing the border, perhaps due to the U.S. economic recession.

Yet more people are dying than ever, which has led many experts to conclude that illegal immigrants face a deadlier trek than ever across Arizona's desert.

Border-county law enforcement, Mexican consular officials, Tohono O'odham tribal officials and humanitarian groups say the buildup of border fencing, technology and agents has caused illegal border crossers to walk longer distances in more treacherous terrain, increasing the likelihood that people will get hurt or fatigued and left behind to die.

The Border Patrol agrees that illegal immigrants are crossing in more remote areas because of the increased presence but says the blame should be placed on greedy smugglers leading them there, not agents protecting the nation's border. The agency points to its rescue efforts as evidence that its presence prevents deaths rather than causes them.

Contact reporter Brady McCombs at 573-4213 or