A record number of migrants died along the U.S. Mexico border last year. That’s according to the advocacy group International Organization for Migration. In Arizona, the death toll was at least on par with a 10-year high in 2020.
More than 220 sets of remains were recovered in counties around the state last year, according to a count by the Arizona advocacy group Humane Borders.
Pima County Medical Examiner Greg Hess’ office analyzes the majority of those cases. He says every year, one of the leading causes of death is exposure.
"So especially in 2020, we set record drought and heat numbers," he said. "And at least for the first part of 2021 it was the same."
More than 40 sets of remains were brought to Hess' office in June of last year, when a record heat wave sent desert temperatures soaring. His office received 215 sets of remains all told in 2021, though he says the final count is still being analyzed.
After remains are brought in, Hess’s team begins the long process of trying to identify and return people to their families.
Advocates say in addition to the soaring heat, enforcement policies like the pandemic-era Title 42, which sends migrants back to Mexico on public health grounds, have also made the border more deadly.