Death and the Arizona Border

Yes, a lot of people are dying on the Arizona border, but the cause is not the drug war. Rather, it is simple fact that crossing the desert on foot is a dangerous proposition. (And this is not a new phenomenon).

It is true that there are a number of people dying along the Arizona-Mexico border.  However, rather than being the victims of violent crime, they are dying as they have for years:  simply as a result of exposure to the harsh climate of the Sonoran desert as they seek to come to the US so as to seek employment.

Yes, it is an illegal crossing in contravention of US law.  However, it further demonstrates the nature of the problem that we face in regards to illegal immigration, i.e., that it is fundamentally an issue of labor supply and demand and unless we address it as such we will never get it under control.

Via the NYTAn Arizona Morgue Grows Crowded

The Pima County morgue is running out of space as the number of Latin American immigrants found dead in the deserts around Tucson has soared this year during a heat wave.

The rise in deaths comes as Arizona is embroiled in a bitter legal battle over a new law intended to discourage illegal immigrants from settling here by making it a state crime for them to live or seek work.

But the law has not kept the immigrants from trying to cross hundreds of miles of desert on foot in record-breaking heat. The bodies of 57 border crossers have been brought in during July so far, putting it on track to be the worst month for such deaths in the last five years.

Since the first of the year, more than 150 people suspected of being illegal immigrants have been found dead, well above the 107 discovered during the same period in each of the last two years.

To reiterate something I have noted on multiple times:  these are people willing to risk an unpleasant death for the possibility of coming to America for a job as a gardener, fruit-picker,  fast food restaurant janitor, and so forth.  That reality is what any effective immigration reform has to deal with.

It is interesting to note that the numbers above also suggest that the passage of SB1070 did not have a deterrent effect on crossings.

And to address a likely objection:  yes, it is possible that some of these dead are smugglers.  However, I would note that while there are cases of human mules being used to bring drugs into the US via desert crossings, the major drug traffickers have better and far more efficient ways to ship drugs into the United States.  And, further, there are easier ways for people with money to get into the US than walking across the desert.

FILED UNDER: Borders and Immigration, US Politics, , , , , , , ,
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. mike says:

    the drug traffickers are much better equipped – typically GPS, 4 wheelers, maps, enough H2O and there is a strong incentive from someone on this side to assist them and find them if they get lost

    the passage that illegals take in AZ would be difficult with good modern hiking equipment and plenty of water

  2. grampagravy says:

    Here’s a way to look at solving part of the problem. The demand side is all about cheap labor. If we had a living wage law that said every adult working full time in the U.S. must be paid a wage consistent with the local cost of supporting one independent person (think shelter, food, clothing, health care, and transportation) at a subsistence level, the demand side would be dramatically reduced. Young, healthy Americans needing work don’t pick lettuce because there isn’t a living in it, AND it’s hell. Okay, so a Big Mac would cost a few cents more, but if you take the “cheap” out of Mexican labor it would remove incentives on both sides of the border. No cops needed except the tax man. Also bring back the Bracero program for labor intensive times of year-just don’t hand the Braceros’ S.S. money to Mexican banks like last time. Pay the money back through U.S. banks to eliminate the “disappearing $” problem that occurred last time.
    Yep, a living wage law would redistribute some wealth downward, but I doubt it would put a dent in the massive upward redistribution we’ve witnessed over the last 30 years.
    Until the profit is taken out of illegal labor, there is no solution to the problem.