Border Patrol Fails to Report Hundreds of Immigrant Deaths

Crossing the U.S. border is undeniably dangerous, but a CNN analysis has just revealed that it’s even more deadly than many imagined: The U.S. Border Patrol is undercounting deaths, leaving us with an incomplete picture of law enforcement activity along the border between the U.S. and Mexico.

These findings affirm those of the Arizona Republic, a newspaper with a very personal interest in this issue, given that covers news in a border state.

According to the U.S. government, nearly 6,000 people have died crossing the border since 2000. CNN posits that this number is an understatement, identifying over 500 additional deaths associated with crossings. Reporters warn that the real numbers are likely much higher.

From a human rights perspective, this is an appalling crisis created by the federal government — yet one left to local jurisdictions to clean up.

Failing to track deaths means that we have incomplete information about the impact of law enforcement activities along the border, as well as tactics used to deter illegal crossings. That makes meaningful conversations about immigration reform challenging — and turns the border into a bit of a black box.

But it wasn’t always like this. While the United States has maintained a law enforcement presence at the border for a long time, CNN reports that it wasn’t until the mid-1990s that the government began erecting walls and other barriers along popular crossing points.

The logic was that by creating a deterrent in the form of a physical obstacle, the government could encourage immigrants and refugees to turn back. In fact, it had the opposite effect; it just drove people to attempt crossings in more remote areas — many of which were also much more dangerous.

Popular crossing sites are often subject to extreme weather. People can die of heat exposure and dehydration, or freeze to death during cold desert nights. Others get lost wandering the scrubland. In some cases, unscrupulous “guides” will charge to offer assistance, and then abandon people to the elements.

In response to the growing dangers of crossing the border, humanitarian groups have tried to establish aid stations, and run search-and-rescue missions to identify and assist migrants. But the Border Patrol isn’t a fan of these activities, going so far as to raid such groups and sabotage their caches of food and water.

The Border Patrol claims that it solicits information about deaths from regional agencies to create a complete picture of who is dying along the border and how. But CNN reporters found this wasn’t the case; according to people on the ground, the agency only reports deaths it directly identifies and observes — and sometimes not even then. Thus, if a local sheriff finds human remains later traced back to an immigrant, they don’t count. This creates a very lopsided picture of what’s happening along the border.

It’s compounded by the difficulty in identifying human remains and repatriating them to their families. Some communities have programs designed to assist with identification, but others don’t — and this is sometimes driven by budget. The net effect is an unknown number of entirely anonymous deaths, leaving families back home wondering if relatives made it, were detained or died somewhere in the vast terrain along the border.

Dealing with human remains is costly and time-consuming, and it can present a real burden to local agencies with limited budgets: The federal government is setting policy that it doesn’t have to pay for, to the detriment of communities watching their law enforcement and forensic resources go into dealing with unattended deaths along the border.

But the real tragedy here isn’t fiscal. It’s the human cost for thousands of families left in limbo, wondering where their loved ones are and questioning whether the risk was worth it. Potential migrants are too often caught between horrendous conditions at home and the unknown risks of crossing the border, believing they must attempt the crossing even in the face of tremendous odds.

Photo credit: Jonathan McIntosh/Flickr


Cindy S
Cindy S4 days ago


Joan E
Joan E13 days ago

This border patrol needs to be disbanded. They are worse than useless. They seem to be predators.

DAVID fleming
Dave f17 days ago

Noted and signed

Echo P
Past Member 27 days ago

rhoberta its better than going to the hospital and paying 300 bucks for one simple thing. where as medicade or crappy obama care is paying to have those illegals looked at for free. im 18 i work and pay taxes and im going to start college which i dont want to pay to have illegals or ms-13 dreamers have thing handed to them on a silver platter.

Rhoberta E
Rhoberta E28 days ago

@echo p
Weren't you the one on another thread that stated you were JUST graduating from HS ?
You really need to tell the truth. BTW, as a health professional for most of my life, the fact that you just "pop it back into place" is SO irresponsible. You're right on one front, "You're NO Doctor"

Paul B
Paul B28 days ago

Rhoberta, did she go to a doctor or a hospital. There is a difference in the US between private care facilities and public ones. It is against the law for a hospital to deny treatment.

Echo P
Past Member 28 days ago

rhoberta e why didnt you just pop it back into place your self im no doctor but have popped shoulders back in place dozens of times there easy. and paul b is correct so dont attack him. but we need to send ms-13 dreamers out of here

Shirley S
Shirley S28 days ago

I feel for the innocents who get conned by the evil doers.

Rhoberta E
Rhoberta E28 days ago

Paul b
If a Canadian is injured or requires care in the US, you had better have great travel insurance or an unlimited line of credit. Quit equating everyone as trying to screw the US like trump does. My Canadian Daughter was injured in the US with a dislocated shoulder and they wouldn't even relieve her pain without her credit card. Some hospitality

Chad A
Chad A28 days ago

At the very least they could try keeping records.