New database to help identify migrants who died in desert

TUCSON -- The Sonora desert claims the lives of hundreds of people crossing the U.S.-Mexico border each year. Many of the dead -- about one out of three -- go unidentified. Now, there may be an easier way to put a name to some of these suspected border-crossers who died north of the international boundary.

Monday, the Pima County Office of the Medical Examiner joined with Humane Borders to launch a Web-based system that will allow the public to identify the deceased found in the desert in the Tucson area -- more than 2,000 dating back 13 years.

“Although each organization operates with a distinct mission, both are committed to the common vision of raising awareness about migrant deaths and lessening the suffering of families by helping to provide closure through the identification of the deceased and the return of remains,” Humane Borders officials said in a prepared statement.

The International OpenGIS Initiative for Missing and Deceased Migrants will feature a map documenting deaths as far back to 2001. 

The database contains customizable search tools available through menu options. It will allow any user to query data concerning migrant deaths and view the data using online maps and tables. Also, it allows the public to download the data for further use.

Since 2001, officials have found 2,037 remains that are believed to belong to migrants. 

The vast majority of those who die in the desert are of Mexican origin, followed by Guatemalans and Salvadorans, according to a report provided by the Pima County Office of the Medical Examiner.

The cause of death for 68% of the migrants has gone undetermined. Many, however die of hypothermia, according to Dr. Gregory Hess, chief medical examiner for Pima County.

So far this year, the Pima County Forensic Science Center has discovered 48 remains they believe belong to border-crossers. They expect the number to climb during the summer months.


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