The number of illegal immigrants' bodies found last year in the Arizona desert was the lowest in a decade.

During federal fiscal year 2012, 172 bodies were found in the Border Patrol's Tucson Sector, the Arizona Daily Star's border death database shows. That's down from the record in 2010, when 252 bodies were found.

The federal fiscal year ended Sept. 30.

For about 70 percent of the bodies found in the Tucson Sector in fiscal 2012, the cause of death was undetermined, mostly because they were badly decomposed. In the Tucson area, the Pima County medical examiner is responsible for conducting autopsies on and trying to identify the bodies found.

So far this fiscal year, there have been 42 bodies of illegal border crossers found in the Tucson Sector.

One was that of Gerardo López de León, a 41-year-old Mexican national traveling with some relatives through an area near Peña Blanca Lake and Arivaca, said Sheriff Tony Estrada of Santa Cruz County.

He died of hypothermia. His body was found Feb. 12.

Estrada said his office has found three remains this calendar year compared with about eight or nine last year.

"The numbers went down tremendously from 20 or so, give or take on average we used to have," he said. "It's been declining, and it has a lot to do with numbers coming through."

The number of Border Patrol apprehensions in the Tucson Sector has decreased from nearly 500,000 in 2001 to 120,000 last fiscal year.

The number of apprehensions is generally used as an indicator of the illegal immigrant flow.

Since 2001, more than 2,200, men, women and children have been found dead trying to cross illegally into the United States through Arizona's desert.

"Who is Dayani Cristal?"

The death toll in the border desert has for years caught the attention of journalists, filmmakers and photographers.

It is now the topic of a new film titled "Who is Dayani Cristal?" by Mexican actor Gael García Bernal and director Marc Silver, about a decomposing body found in the Arizona desert in August 2010. It screened at this year's Sundance Film Festival and is scheduled to be shown in Tucson later this year.

The film unravels the mystery about the dead man, who had "Dayani Cristal" tattooed across his chest.

He was found by two ranchers, who called the Pima County Sheriff's Department, said Dr. Greg Hess, the county medical examiner. The man was identified two months later as Dilcy Sanders Martinez, 29.

The film blends interviews and conventional documentary segments with Bernal's travels through Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico to reveal the circumstances that led Sanders Martinez on a 2,000-mile trek that ended in the desert, The Associated Press reported.

The film crew had the rare opportunity to follow the process of identifying the man to completion while it was in Tucson, said Robin Reineke, a University of Arizona graduate student who coordinates the Pima County Missing and Unidentified Persons Project and appears in the film.

Bernal and Silver said the intent was to put a face on one of the thousands - many anonymous - who have died in the Arizona desert, according to the AP.

"It allows you to understand the force that leads him to cross the border and shows you how it's not an individual choice," Reineke said.

On StarNet: Go to for a database of deaths on the border.


Humane Borders, a local organization that provides water to illegal immigrants crossing through the Arizona desert, collaborates with the the Pima County medical examiner to develop detailed maps of the region that mark the location of every body discovered. John F. Chamblee, a Humane Borders volunteer and head of its mapping project, will discuss the project at a public meeting.

The event is 6 p.m. Friday at Grace St. Paul Episcopal Church, 2331 E. Adams St. For information online, go to

Contact reporter Perla Trevizo at or at 573-4213. On Twitter: @Perla_Trevizo.