In this year-long investigation from Futuro Investigates, we dig into how the U.S. government and Border Patrol’s decades-long “prevention through deterrence” policies have knowingly created a deadly funnel, pushing migrants attempting to cross from Mexico to the U.S. into the deadliest terrain in the country, including the Sonoran Desert in southern Arizona.
Over the last two decades, more than 4,000 remains of people believed to have died attempting to cross the border have been recovered from this region. And many more people have disappeared. Last year, 225 deaths were recorded in this stretch of southern Arizona. The actual death toll is unknown, but experts say it is likely much higher than has been reported.
As a result, for years, a number of volunteer organizations have made it their mission to go out into the most dangerous areas of the desert to conduct water drops and to search for missing people. We examine why volunteers, lacking the financial resources and manpower of U.S. agencies, have to continue to take on this dangerous work as Border Patrol’s multi-billion dollar budget continues to increase, including money earmarked specifically for search and rescue. We also speak with a network of local organizations, activists, volunteers and officials who are taking on the challenge of trying to identify the remains of those who’ve perished without identification in hopes of one day being able to return them home to their families.
Jess Alvarenga contributed reporting to this investigation.
“Death by Policy: Crisis In The Arizona Desert” is an original production from Futuro Investigates, Futuro’s new investigative unit. You can read more articles related to this topic, find original data and visualizations mapping deaths in the Sonoran Desert, and view full photo galleries on the new Futuro Investigates website.