The U.S.-Mexico border is the world’s deadliest land migration route, according to the United Nations migration agency.
The most recent report from the International Organization for Migration (IOM) shows hundreds of people die each year attempting to get to the United States through the dangerous deserts.
Their data shows 1,457 migrant deaths and disappearances recorded throughout the Americas in 2022, with 686 deaths and disappearances in the region of the U.S.-Mexico border alone.
“Ultimately, what is needed is for countries to act on the data to ensure safe, regular migration routes are accessible,” Michele Klein Solomon, IOM’s regional director for Central and North America and the Caribbean, said in a statement.
Last year the deadliest
The U.N. agency says 2022 was the deadliest year worldwide on record since IOM’s Missing Migrants Project started in 2014.
Nearly half of the deaths on the U.S.-Mexico border happened at the Sonoran and Chihuahuan deserts, according to IOM, adding that the actual figure is likely higher due to missing data from local officials at U.S. states that share a border with Mexico and the Mexican search and rescue agency.
U.S. Border Patrol has recorded more than 8,000 migrant deaths along the U.S.-Mexico border since 1998. Immigrant advocates say that is likely an undercount.
VOA reached out to U.S. immigration authorities for the most up-to-date migrant deaths, and though they did not share fiscal year 2023 numbers, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) spokesperson said via email that “preventing loss of life is core to CBP’s mission and our personnel endeavor to rescue those in distress.” In fiscal year 2022, there were 7,113 rescue incidents with 22,076 migrants being rescued.
“The terrain along the border is extreme. … People who made the dangerous journey into this territory have died of dehydration, starvation, and heat stroke despite CBP’s best efforts to locate them,” the spokesperson said. “No one should believe smugglers or others claiming the borders are open. The borders are not open.”
Fatalities double in fiscal 2023
Local reports show that in the region that covers New Mexico and parts of Texas, migrant deaths have doubled in fiscal year 2023, reaching 148 deaths due to record heat temperatures, compared with 71 in fiscal 2022.
A September analysis by the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), a human rights organization, shows that from October 2022 to August 2023, U.S. Border Patrol found the remains of 640 migrants — a 24% decrease from the same period in 2022.
“This could be due to a somewhat smaller migrant population — Border Patrol’s 2023 apprehensions were down 9 percent through July compared with 2022 — and stepped-up search and rescue efforts. On the other hand, this year’s record-breaking heat, especially in the Sonoran and Chihuahuan Deserts, may have killed more people than we yet know,” per WOLA.
Brooks County, Texas, also experiences high numbers of migrant deaths.
Migrants who cross without authorization into the United States and are not identified or taken into custody often use the brushy mesquite region as a corridor to their next destination.
Temperatures often rise to 38 degrees Celsius (100.4 Fahrenheit) and above. Landmarks are few, and it’s easy for migrants to get lost and walk in circles. Since 2009, Brooks County has recovered the bodies of 943 migrants.
In response to a Freedom of Information Act request by VOA, U.S. Customs and Border Protection reported that in fiscal year 2022, border officials found the remains of 858 migrants along the southern border of the U.S. In 2021, that number was 657. In 2020, 255. And in 2019, they found 295.
A 2022 Government Accountability Office report found that “CBP has not collected and recorded, or reported to Congress, complete data on migrant deaths,” making the reported numbers an underestimate.