Deadly Crossing: Death Toll Rises Among Those Desperate for the American Dream

Hannah Rappleye and Lisa R. Seville, NBC News, October 9, 2012

In the freezer of a small funeral home nearly 13 miles from the Texas-Mexico border, 22 bodies are stacked on plywood shelves, one on top of the other.

The bodies wrapped in white sheets have names, families and official countries of origin—Honduras, El Salvador, Mexico, sometimes China or Pakistan. The bodies in black shrouds are the remains of the nameless and unclaimed, waiting to be identified.

For the past few years, the family-owned Elizondo Mortuary and Cremation Service in Mission, Texas, has been taking in the remains of undocumented immigrants found dead in nearby counties after crossing the border from Mexico. This year, however, they had to build an extra freezer. It’s become difficult to keep up with the rising tide of dead coming to them from across the Rio Grande Valley.

Crossing the U.S.-Mexico border illegally has always been dangerous, but this year heat and drought have made the journey particularly deadly. According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, this part of the border has seen a sharp rise in both rescues and deaths of people crossing the border illegally. So far in 2012, agents have rescued more than 310 people, and found nearly 150 dead in the Rio Grande Valley—an increase of more than 200 percent over the last fiscal year. 

This comes as migration across the U.S.-Mexico border has dropped to historic lows, falling nearly 62 percent over the last five years, according to numbers recently released by CBP. But the proportion of deaths to apprehensions is rising—suggesting that while fewer are crossing, more are dying.

Ground zero is over 70 miles north of the border, in Brooks County. Last year the remains of about 50 presumed undocumented immigrants were found in the county. This year, the tally has reached about 104, with nearly three months to go.

The rising number of unclaimed corpses marks a growing crisis for this cash-strapped county of fewer than 7,500 residents. Because Brooks has no coroner, it sends the bodies recovered on its vast cattle ranches to Elizondo in neighboring Hidalgo County. It costs, according to county officials, about $1,500 for each body to be processed.


Many of the migrants who are found dead in this part of South Texas end up buried in paupers’ graves, remembered only by their gender, case number and the name of the ranch where they died.


Since the mid-1990s, U.S. Customs and Border Protection has clamped down hard on border crossings. The agency has more than doubled in size since 2004, and now has 28,000 agents, nearly half of them in Texas. Fences, sensors, drones, checkpoints and disciplined, coordinated enforcement have choked off routes through urban areas that were once easily crossed.

Smugglers have adapted by moving into sparsely populated areas like the Sonoran desert in Arizona, and the west Rio Grande Valley.

“We’re starting to see these crossings more in these particular areas than we have in the past,” said Mendiola.

With triple-digit temperatures and wide deserts, these uncompromising landscapes are harder to patrol than populous areas on the border’s edge. They are also more dangerous for those crossing into the country.

“There’s no doubt that the increased vigilance has pushed people into these more hostile areas,” said Raquel Rubio-Goldsmith, a professor of Mexican American Studies and coordinator of Arizona State University’s Binational Migration Institute. “Traditionally, people crossed in urban areas. If you cross into an urban area, you can find a way of making it. If you have to cross through these rural areas, you’re taking a big chance.”

Despite the rising danger and cost, people keep coming. Advocates and families say that with few legal avenues into the U.S., migrants feel this is the only way to make a better life.


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  • The__Bobster

    I remember when Americans looked nothing like these Dreamers.

    •  They still don’t.  The only thing I see when I look at a “dreamer” is an illegal mestizo indian/hispanic invader.

  • Puggg

    All illegal aliens are “desperate for the American Dream?”

    Since when did the “American Dream” become nothing more than collecting every welfare benefit possible sometimes under false pretenses?

    • Shouldn’t we re-label it the “Mexican” Dream for America?

    • JackKrak

      Exactly. The tone is clearly “It’s our fault that people die in the desert because we make it so hard for them to get in”.

  • “Since the mid-1990s, U.S. Customs and Border Protection has clamped down hard on border crossings.”

    Dammit Amren, when did you guys starting doing comedy?  I nearly spit my coffee all over the computer screen.

  • crystal evans

    The same thing happened on the Arizona Mexico border. There were so many bodies that the coroner’s office in Tuscon had to built two makeshift morgues to handle the overflow. The Mexican consulate has been able to identify some of the bodies and return them to their families in Mexico.

  • Up to my neck in CA

    How about they stay in Mexico and experience the Mexican Dream? Make Mexico provide for THEIR citizens needs? They are a rich nation afterall. The American taxpayer can not afford to pay for Mexico’s social services any longer.

    • Let Mexico’s 69 billion dollar,richest man in the WORLD  help his people,He’s probably like Bill Gates sending his money off to Africa!!!!

  • .

    These “dreamers” aren’t dreaming of having things like we have. They’re dreaming of taking the things that we have. Not at first. At first their just grateful to have jobs. But not their children. They’re children don’t feel grateful. They feel entitled.

  • loyalwhitebriton

    “…we have therefore decided to withdraw all US troops from the Middle East and place them along the US-Mexico border, with orders to ‘shoot-to-kill’ any and all trespassers. We say to Mexico and all other nations “you shall not cross” – and implore the international community to respect our borders and our determination to maintain their integrity”.
                                                                                US President O.N.Lee Kiddin.

     OK, so I made it up. Sounds like the right idea, though.

    • C_C_Conrad

        “President O.N.Lee Kiddin”
      Sounds like the right name for the last several presidents that we’ve had. 

  • “…sometimes China or Pakistan”

    If Mexicans aren’t a concern for our government, Chinese and Pakistanis coming over the Mexican border should be.

  • RisingReich

    As if the border has ‘been clamped down on’ haha.

    On a more serious note, these invaders are getting much more than they deserve, a nice cold refrigerator stay, proper ID, and a return trip home.  That takes resources that could be better spent keeping these invaders outside the gates to begin with.

    What they really deserve, well, I can’t say due to ‘civility’ standards.

    • IstvanIN

       Armed guard towers on the borders with shoot to kill orders.

      • RisingReich

        Yes. I thought ‘civility’ prevented us from ‘insinuating’ that people would be killed.

  • bluffcreek1967

    I feel no sorrow or guilt for the Mexican invaders who perish in the process of breaking into our country. I did not ask them to come here, and they did not consult me before they chose to violate our immigration laws. The U.S. can no longer economically sustain the whordes of third-world indian trespassers. Moreover, these same people have helped to change the demographics of our nation so that each day it resembles the toilet bowl known as ‘Mexico.’

    When are American Whites going to awaken from their slumber and realize that Mexicans are not good for America? When are we going to realize that they will dispossess us if we continue to allow them within our borders?

  • This doesn’t pass the sniff test.  You’re telling me that the number of crossings has dropped dramatically but the number of fatalities has doubled???  I submit that the number of deaths is directly proportional to the number of attempted crossings–it’s a linear relationship and always has been.

  • They need to take the  “Sheriff Joe” approach: When you find a dead invader in the desert, check his pockets  for money to offset expenses, take his picture, fingerprints, and a DNA swab. Then bury him where he lies  and jot down the GPS coordinates. If the family ever contacts us and wants the body back, charge them $1500 and upon payment in full give them a shovel and the coordinates.

  • I’m sorry to hear about your brother but Mexico does much worse than what you experienced. I read about an American soldier on leave after serving in Iraq killed in a car wreck in Mexico. While he was in ICU, the Mexican Government would not allow an American helicopter to fly in to pick him up for treatment in the US. After he died, the hospital wanted something like $25k to settled the bill before they released the body. The horror stories are endless. Imagine if we couuld send Mexico a bill for all the invaders who have frequented our ER’s. It would wipe out our defecit.

  • Some one needs get the word out,there’s no american dream ,tell’em American Dream left when Ronnie Reagan became president

  • mutt3003

    Raquel Rubio-Goldsmith, a professor of Mexican American Studies and coordinator of Arizona State University’s Binational Migration Institute. Nuff said.

  • Michael C. Scott

    I am not one bit sorry these criminal alien invaders died during the commission of a crime.

    If one of them broke into my home, I would not regard him as an “undocumented family member”.  If one of them raped my wife, I would not regard him as an “undocumented co-husband”.  If one of them kidnapped my daughter, I would not regard him as an “undocumented babysitter”, and if one of them shot me on the street, I would not regard him as an “undocumented policeman”.

    I am in fact absolutely delighted that these criminal alien invaders died during the commission of their crimes, and I am disappointed it is only 150 dead in the Rio Grande Valley and not all of them.