U.S. border officials and migrant safety advocates are warning of the potential for more migrant deaths in the remote stretches of Arizona desert and mountains, as the blistering summer heat in the region approaches.
“You have people who cross in the flatlands with two gallons of water thinking they’re going to walk to Phoenix because they’ve been told that and they’ve been misled,” U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) official Michael Montgomery said during a briefing Thursday.
Montgomery is Tucson Air Branch Director for CBP.
The bodies of 220 people were recovered in Arizona’s desert and mountain regions in 2020, the highest in a decade after the hottest and driest summer in the state’s history, according to a report from KGUN-TV. The report cites data from the Pima County Medical Examiner’s annual report.
The warnings come amid increased migrant activty along the U.S.-Mexico border. April was the second-busiest month on record for unaccompanied children encountered at the border, following March’s all-time high.
But while asylum-seeking families and children dominate public attention, single adults represent a growing number of border encounters, nearly two of every three in April. They are less likely to surrender to authorities than families and children, making them less visible.
The Border Patrol’s 173,460 total encounters in April were up 3% from March, marking the highest level since April 2000. The numbers, released Tuesday, are not directly comparable because most of those stopped were quickly expelled from the country under federal pandemic-related powers that deny rights to seek asylum. Being expelled carries no legal consequences, so many people try to cross multiple times.
Single adults — more than half of them from Mexico — drove the increased activity. The Border Patrol had 108,301 such encounters in April, up 12% from March. Nearly nine of 10 adult encounters ended in expulsions under pandemic-related authority that began under former President Donald Trump and continued under Biden.