The searing summer heat in Arizona's desert is taking its toll on illegal border crossers — the same as it has done every year since the start of the decade.
Officials have recovered the bodies of six illegal border crossers since Monday along Arizona's stretch of U.S.-Mexico border, bringing the fiscal-year-to-date total to 164, figures from the Pima and Cochise County medical examiner's records show.
These two medical examiners handle all bodies of suspected illegal immigrants recovered on the border from New Mexico to Yuma County.
With temperatures reaching 107 degrees on Monday and Tuesday in Southern Arizona, it's not surprising that more bodies have turned up. Most of the illegal border crossers found dead in Arizona die from hyperthermia or dehydration. And July is historically the worst month for body recoveries.
The 2009 fiscal-year-to-date total is on pace to match previous-year totals, which have exceeded at least 180 every year since 2004 and at least 130 every year since 2002.
Three of the six bodies this week were discovered on the Tohono O'odham Nation, and two were on the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. The sixth was found near Naco in Cochise County.
The search for the two bodies in Organ Pipe began Tuesday afternoon when U.S. Border Patrol agents caught an illegal immigrant on Arizona 85 who told them that he spotted two bodies during his trek, said Mario Escalante, Border Patrol Tucson Sector spokesman. Organ Pipe is in Southwestern Arizona flanking the border town of Lukeville.
The agents called Borstar, the agency's search, trauma and rescue team, which launched a search. Borstar found one body on Tuesday afternoon at 5:40 p.m. and the other early Wednesday morning at 3 a.m. Both bodies were found west of Arizona 85 within five miles of the monument's northern boundary, said Lee Baiza, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument superintendent.
It was unknown if they were men or women because both bodies were in advanced stages of decomposition, he said.
Baiza said it's been very hot and dry on the monument this week, with temperatures reaching 110 degrees or higher on both Monday and Tuesday.
The three bodies recovered on Tohono O'odham land were discovered in three distinct areas, with two found on Tuesday and one on Wednesday, said Tohono O'odham police Sgt. Vincent Garcia.
The body of a Salvadoran woman who was about 30 years old was found on Tuesday about four miles north of the international border and 10 miles east of Papago Farms, on the western side of the reservation, Garcia said.
A woman who flagged down Border Patrol agents alerted authorities to the body of her relative.
Also on Tuesday, Border Patrol agents came across decomposing remains on the northern part of the reservation near the village of Jackrabbit, about 20 miles southwest of Casa Grande.
On Wednesday morning west of Sells, at Milepost 106 on Arizona 86, Tohono O'odham police came upon a group of illegal immigrants who were carrying the body of a woman in her early 20s, Garcia said. The woman had died that morning.
The sixth body found this week was recovered on Monday evening near Naco in Cochise County, Escalante said. Border Patrol agents caught a woman in that area who told them that her sister had died near the border. Agents found the woman's body west of Naco.
The 35 known border deaths recorded in July by the Pima and Cochise County medical examiners puts the fiscal-year-to-date total at 164, which is more than the 153 bodies that were found at this time last year but less than the 193 found through the date in fiscal year 2007, records show. The 2007 year-end total of 228 nearly matched the record set in 2005 of 230 bodies.
Border Patrol figures show that border deaths in the agency's Tucson Sector spiked to 74 in 2000 and to 134 in 2002. The totals have not decreased to pre-2000 levels since.
The Border Patrol releases border death totals only at the end of each month, making it difficult to gauge the agency's year-to-date total.
The latest figures available, for Oct. 1-June 30, show that agents in the Border Patrol's Tucson Sector had recovered the bodies of 124 illegal immigrants, compared with 118 during the same period last year.
On StarNet: Find more of the Star's coverage of the U.S.-Mexico border at www.azstarnet.com/border