A county medical examiner says deaths among illegal immigrants crossing the southern Arizona desert from Mexico are soaring so much this month the office is using a refrigerated truck to store some of the bodies.
Pima County medical examiner Dr. Bruce Parks said Friday that the bodies of 40 illegal immigrants have been brought to his Tucson office since July 1.
At that rate, he says deaths could top the single-month record of 68 in July 2005.
Authorities believe the high number of deaths are likely due to above-average heat and tighter border security that pushes immigrants to more remote terrain.
The deaths occur despite the efforts of the Border Patrol and humanitarian groups to help those in distress.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.
TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) -- Deaths among migrants crossing into southern Arizona from Mexico are soaring this month as extreme heat blankets the state, according to a county medical examiner who tracks the fatalities.
The bodies of 38 illegal immigrants have been brought in since July 1, Pima County medical examiner Dr. Bruce Parks said Thursday, with agents headed out to recover four more. If the pace continues it could meet or surpass the single-month record of 68 in July 2005, Parks said.
"I never thought we would see that again," Parks said. "It's scary. Maybe the rain will slow these down."
From Jan. 1 to July 15, the office has handled 132 bodies of illegal border crossers, up from 93 at the same time last year and 102 in 2008.
The Pima County medical center handles border deaths for several southern Arizona counties.
Since 2001, the bodies of more than 1,750 men, women and children have been discovered in the desert or mountains of southern Arizona. Parks' office has handled about 1,600 of them.
Many experts believe that tighter border security is pushing migrants into ever-more-dangerous territory.
There is widespread evidence that the number of people crossing illegally into Arizona is down substantially, yet deaths have not dropped. Apprehensions in the Border Patrol's Tucson Sector have decreased each of the past five years.
Officials with border-county law enforcement agencies, Mexican consular officials, Tohono O'odham tribal officials and humanitarian groups all point to tighter security as a cause of deaths. More border fencing, technology and agents has caused illegal border crossers to walk farther in more treacherous terrain, increasing the likelihood that people will get hurt or fatigued and left behind to die.
The Border Patrol disagrees that it's pushing illegal immigrants into more hazardous terrain. The agency points to its rescue efforts as evidence that its presence prevents deaths rather than causes them.
Information from: Arizona Daily Star, http://www.azstarnet.com