Migrant deaths along the Mexico–United States border

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Border Patrol sign in Spanish, in California warning "Caution! Do not expose your life to the elements. It's not worth it!"

United States border with Mexico is one of the world's "most lethal land borders".[1] Hundreds of migrants die per year as they attempt to cross into the United States from Mexico illegally.[2] The US Border Patrol reported 251 migrant deaths in the fiscal year 2015 (ending September 30, 2015), which was lower than any year during the period 2000–2014, and reported 247 migrant deaths in fiscal year 2020, lower than any year since 1998.[3] US Border Patrol recorded 557 southwest border deaths during fiscal year 2021 and 748 in the first 11 months of fiscal year 2022, the most deaths ever recorded.[4]

Exposure (including heat stroke, dehydration, and hyperthermia) were the leading cause.[5]

The group Border Angels estimates that since 1994, about 10,000 people have died in their attempt to cross border.[6] According to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, 8,050 people have died crossing the U.S–Mexico border between 1998 and 2020.[3] In 2005, more than 500 died across the entire U.S.–Mexico border.[7] The number of yearly border crossing deaths doubled from 1995 to 2005,[8] and has since declined and then risen.[3] The statistics reflect only known deaths and do not include estimates for those who have never been found.[9] Some migrant deaths may go unreported even when they are brought to the attention of officials.[10]

Mexico's Secretariat of Foreign Affairs has compiled data including deaths on the Mexican side of the border area during the period from 1994 to 2000. The data shows 87 deaths in 1996, 149 in 1997, 329 in 1998, 358 in 1999, and 499 in 2000.[11]

U.S. Border Patrol reported that 3,417 migrants were rescued in the fiscal year 2017.[12]

Data for Arizona[edit]

The Arizona Daily Star maintained a database daily of border deaths recorded by the Pima, Santa Cruz, Cochise, and Yuma County medical examiners between summer 2004 and September 2006.[13] They stated, "With no official record-keeping system, the exact number of illegal entrants who have died along the Arizona stretch of U.S-Mexican border has never been known."[14]

The number of dead border crossing migrants per year in Arizona increased from nine in 1990 to 201 in 2005; about 80% of the dead migrants were under 40 during 2000–2005, with an increasing number younger than 18.[15][16][17]


Mexico–United States barrier at the border of Tijuana, Mexico and San Diego, USA. The crosses represent migrants who have died in crossing attempts. Some who are identified, some not. Surveillance tower in the background.

A study by the Center for Immigration Research at the University of Houston found that, "In the late 1980s, the number of foreign transient deaths usually exceeded 300, and peaked in 1988 at 355. Thereafter, the number of deaths fell to 180 in 1993 and 1994. After 1994 the number of deaths started to increase again, peaking in 2000 at 370. Border Patrol counts for 2001 and 2002 show a small decrease in the number of deaths in those years compared to 2000."[18]

The number of deaths of illegal immigrants along the border has increased on a regular, yearly basis since the middle 1990s, particularly in the state of Arizona.[5] As of summer 2006, tighter enforcement in Arizona has likely led to fewer deaths there, but border wide fatalities were approaching the record pace of 2005.[19][20]

In 2012, the United States Border Patrol found the remains of 463 migrants in the U.S., of which 177 were discovered along the section of the border near Tucson, Arizona.[21] The Rio Grande Valley of South Texas reported 150 migrant remains found, a jump from 2011 due to the increased numbers of Central American migrants.[21][22]


Hyperthermia is one of the most common causes of migrant border deaths in the U.S.[5] There was a sharp rise in the number of people dying from hypothermia and dehydration, from 1993 to 1997, as increased border enforcement diverted undocumented migration flows from urban crossing points to more remote areas where the risk of death was higher.[10]

On 25 June 2019, seven migrants including a woman and three children were found dead U.S. Border Patrol near the Rio Grande in South Texas. The death was reportedly due to heat exposure and dehydration. A 6-year-old Indian girl was also found dead in June 2019, from heat exposure in western Arizona who was abandoned along with a group of migrants by the smugglers in a remote desert location.[23]

On June 27, 2022, 53 people were discovered dead in and around a tractor-trailer near Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas.[24] The deaths were reportedly caused by heat exhaustion and asphyxiation during an apparent illegal migrant smuggling attempt across the US-Mexico border. It is described as the deadliest trafficking incident in the history of the United States.[25]


A common cause of immigrant border deaths is drowning in canals, ditches, and the Rio Grande.[26]


Significant numbers of undocumented immigrants die daily in car accidents and other accidental causes. According to a December 2006 cover story in the San Diego Reader, "...traffic fatalities involving immigrants have more than doubled since 2003 as coyotes, or polleros – the guides leading migrants across the border – try other methods. On August 7, nine migrants died in a crash in the Yuma sector when the driver of a Chevrolet Suburban – in which 21 Mexicans were 'stacked like cordwood'[27] – lost control after crossing a Border Patrol spike strip at high speed. This year the number killed in traffic accidents during illegal crossings is about 50."[28]

In January 2003, two undocumented immigrant passengers died when their truck crashed on Interstate 8 while fleeing the Border Patrol, after a spike strip punctured a tire.[29] A week after the accident, a third person, Elvia Rumbo Leyva, died in the hospital.[30]

Close to one hundred undocumented immigrants were struck and killed on San Diego County freeways over a five-year span in the late 1980s, prompting the creation of a highway safety sign to caution drivers about migrants crossing the road.[31]

Incidents of Border Patrol use of force[edit]

According to Rodolfo Acuña,[32] Professor Emeritus of Chicano Studies at California State University, "Mexico's Ministry of Foreign Affairs reported 117 cases of human rights abuses by US officials against migrants from 1988 to 1990, including fourteen deaths. During the 1980s, Border Patrol agents shot dozens of people, killing eleven and permanently disabling ten."[33]

On May 28, 1994, Martín García Martínez was shot by a Border Patrol agent at the San Ysidro port of entry. He died on July 3 as a result of his injuries.[34]

In May 2000, an illegal immigrant was shot in the shoulder by a border patrolman near Brownsville, Texas, and died later from the wounds.[35]

In January 2006, an eight-year veteran of the Border Patrol, fearful of stones which were being thrown at him[36] shot Guillermo Martinez Rodriguez, a known people smuggler who had been detained 11 times prior.[37] Rodriguez, with a gunshot to the back of his right shoulder, crossed back to Mexico and was taken to the Red Cross in Tijuana where he died twenty-five and a half hours later from the injury.[38] Under the Border Patrol's use-of-force guidelines, agents are permitted to employ lethal force against rock throwers if they pose a threat.[39] Large rocks have seriously injured many agents and many agents have resorted to wearing riot gear as a result.

In January 2007, border patrol agent Nicholas Corbett shot and killed Francisco Javier Domínguez Rivera[40] after the latter tried to smash his head with a rock according to the officer's lawyer.[41] After the agent was acquitted of wrongdoing, a civil suit was filed on behalf of Rivera's parents. This civil suit claimed that the United States government was responsible for wrongful death of Rivera due to the fact that the agent was performing his official duty.[41] Mexico lodged an official protest with the United States over the death stating its "firm condemnation" and "serious concern over the recurrence of this type of incident." The protest demanded an exhaustive investigation.[42][43] Though the incident was recorded by surveillance cameras, the recording was not very clear.[44]

On May 28, 2010, Anastasio Rojas, a 42-year-old Mexican migrant worker, was tased and beaten at the San Ysidro border crossing by more than a dozen Customs and Border Protection officers.[45][46][47] Rojas' death was featured on the PBS News Magazine "Need to Know" in April 2012, in which several civilian eyewitnesses gave their testimony and provided two amateur videos of the event. According to the witnesses, he was facedown on the ground and handcuffed while he was being tased and beaten, all the while being surrounded by twelve officers. His pleas for help are clearly audible on the amateur footage. In the hours before Rojas' death, he had tried to file a complaint against a Border Patrol officer for kicking his injured ankle, that officer and another officer would later drive Rojas to the border alone at night, soon after Rojas sustained fatal injuries.[48] Since the initial broadcast of "Need to Know", 16 members of congress have demanded a justice department investigation into Anastasio Rojas' death while in Border Patrol's custody, which is currently under way.[49] He leaves behind a wife and five children.[48]

In June 2010, a 15-year-old Mexican citizen was shot to death on the Mexican side of the border near El Paso, Texas. The U.S. Border Patrol reported that the officers responded to a group of suspected illegal immigrants who were throwing rocks at them. President Felipe Calderón criticized the shooting by stating that "the use of firearms to repel attacks with stones represents disproportionate use of force".[45][50]

On 14 September 2018, US media reported that Jacklyn, a 7-year-old from Guatemala had died while in custody of US Customs.[51] The girl's family denied she did not have enough food to eat before she died.[52]

Vigilante killings[edit]

According to Time Magazine, in the first half of 2000, three immigrants were killed and seven others wounded in showdowns on the U.S. side of the border.[53][54]

In 2000, the United Nations opened an investigation into vigilante killings of migrants crossing Mexico's border with the U.S., dispatching a senior UN investigator to the border country close to where Sam Blackwood, a 74-year-old rancher, was charged with killing Eusebio de Haro,[55] an unarmed Mexican he tried to subdue for the border patrol and shot in the back of the thigh, causing him to bleed to death after pursuing him a quarter mile down the road in his truck.[56][57]

Intentional killings[edit]

On February 8, 2007, four gunmen of unknown nationality opened fire on a truck carrying illegal immigrants in the Ironwood Forest National Monument, killing two men and a 15-year-old girl.[58]

Impact on border communities[edit]

The impact of migrant deaths on border communities can be difficult for small towns on the U.S. side, which have found themselves with hundreds of remains to identify and bury, at a cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars.[59] In November 2013, the Office of the Medical Examiner in Pima County, Arizona, had 871 cases of unidentified remains dating as far back as the 1990s.[22] Relief groups often aid migrants traveling along the border. A Mexican federal task force known as Grupos Betas protects migrants from crime while the migrants make the journey north.[60] Other groups such as 'No More Deaths' provide migrants with humanitarian assistance and members participate in 'desert runs' to search for migrants in need of help.[61]

International consequences[edit]

The deaths have caused tension between the United States and other countries, particularly Mexico and the countries of Central America,[citation needed] from where a majority of illegal immigrants who enter the United States through the Southwestern borders come. Foreign consulates across the Southwest United States, in particular those of Latin American countries, have condemned the deaths of illegal immigrants across the border.[62]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "The deaths of 51 people in Texas highlight the perils of migration". The Economist. Retrieved 4 July 2022.
  2. ^ United States Government Accounting Office. GAO-06-770, August 2006.
  3. ^ a b c U.S. Border Patrol, [1], accessed 13 September 2022.
  4. ^ "First on CNN: A record number of migrants have died crossing the US-Mexico border". Retrieved 13 September 2022.
  5. ^ a b c Eschbach, K., J. Hagan and N. Rodriguez (2001): Causes and Trends in Migrant Deaths Along the U.S.–Mexico Border 1985–1998. Center for Immigration Research, University of Houston (Executive Summary).
  6. ^ "About Us – Border Angels".
  7. ^ PBS Frontline (June 27, 2006): U.S.-Mexico Border: The Season of Death
  8. ^ "GAO-06-770 Illegal Immigration: Border-Crossing Deaths Have Doubled Since 1995" (PDF). United States Government Accountability Office. August 2006.
  9. ^ "Unauthorized Border Crosser Death along the Arizona/ Sonora border" (PDF). Arizona Department of Health Services. June 2007. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2010-12-28.
  10. ^ a b Eschbach, Karl; Hagan, Jacqueline; Rodriguez, Nestor; Hernandez-Leon, Ruben; Bailey, Stanley (1999). "Death at the Border". The International Migration Review. 33 (2): 430–454. doi:10.2307/2547703. JSTOR 2547703. PMID 12319738. Retrieved 4 July 2022.
  11. ^ Wayne A. Cornelius (2001): Death at the Border: The Efficacy and “Unintended” Consequences of U.S. Immigration Control Policy 1993–2000. The Center for Comparative Immigration Studies University of California, San Diego.
  12. ^ U.S. Customs and Border Protection (12 February 2021). "Migrant Death Mitigation" (PDF). Table 4. Retrieved 13 September 2022.
  13. ^ Arizona Daily Star Border Death Database Archived 2010-01-06 at the Wayback Machine
  14. ^ "www.azstarnet.com ® | Border Death Database". Archived from the original on 2010-01-06. Retrieved 2016-02-09., retrieved 14 May 2006
  15. ^ Isabel C. Morales (2007-02-15). "Funnel effect blamed for leap in border deaths". Dallas Morning News.
  16. ^ Raquel Rubio-Goldsmith; M. Melissa McCormick; Daniel Martinez; Inez Magdalena Duarte (2007). "A Humanitarian Crisis at the Border: New Estimates of Deaths Among Unauthorized Immigrants" (PDF). Immigration Policy Center. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2009-05-06.
  17. ^ Raquel Rubio-Goldsmith; M. Melissa McCormick; Daniel Martinez; Inez Magdalena Duarte (October 2006). "The "Funnel Effect" & Recovered Bodies of Unauthorised Migrants Processed by the Pima County Office of the Medical Examiner, 1990–2005" (PDF). Binational Migration Institute, Mexican American Studies & Research Center at the University of Arizona. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2009-07-04.
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  28. ^ Stephen Dobyns. Border Angels. San Diego Reader, Dec 7, 2006.
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  33. ^ Rodolfo Acuña: Murder in Arizona . . . It's Only The Third World La Prensa San Diego, Volume XXIV, Number 24, June 16, 2000
  34. ^ Human Rights Watch (1995): Human Rights Abuses Along the U.S. Border with Mexico Persist Amid Climate of Impunity
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  38. ^ "Secretaría de Relaciones Exteriores – Gobierno".
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  41. ^ a b Service, Jonathon ShacatWick News. "Making sense of filings in legal case against agent who shot immigrant".
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  51. ^ 7-year-old migrant girl taken into Border Patrol custody dies of dehydration, exhaustion
  52. ^ U.S. NEWSGirl who crossed border with dad died in Border Patrol custody
  53. ^ Time McGirk: Border Clash. Time Magazine, June 26, 2000.
  54. ^ The Independent (May 20, 2000): Mexico asks UN for help to stop ranch 'posses' hunting migrants"Mexico Appeals for UN Help in Halting US Ranch Posses Sport Hunting of Migrants". Archived from the original on 2007-02-04. Retrieved 2007-01-25.
  55. ^ The Independent (24 May 2000): UN envoy is sent to investigate Rio Grande shootings by posses of vigilante ranchers Archived 2007-10-01 at the Wayback Machine
  56. ^ John Gonzalez. Rancher Convicted in Immigrant's Death. Houston Chronicle (Reuters), August 25, 2001. Alternative source Archived 2007-06-14 at the Wayback Machine.
  57. ^ Pauline Arrillaga: Border war Archived 2005-12-06 at the Wayback Machine. Associated Press. August 20, 2000
  58. ^ Archibold, Randal C. (2007-02-09). "Illegal Immigrants Slain in an Attack in Arizona". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-07-31.
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  62. ^ "Follow-up to the Guillermo Martínez Rodríguez case". Secretaría de Relaciones Exteriores. 2006-01-05. Archived from the original on September 27, 2007. Retrieved 2008-07-31.

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