Tohono O’odham Reservation deadly place for migrants


Red dots are reported deaths 2000 to 2007


Location of migrant deaths 2000 to 2007

Looking at where undocumented migrants are dying, some interesting issues emerge.

The overwhelming majority of immigranty deaths are occuring west of I-19 over to around Ajo. And they are occuring mostly on the Tohono O’odham Indian Reservation. Out of the 59 bodies found in July, 44 were on the Reservation.

According to an Arizona Republic article August 31, the Tohono O’odham oppose humanitarian aid on their lands.

The Tribe complains that Border Patrol efforts have funneled undocumented immigrants onto their lands.

There seems to be a theory that if water and aid is not available, people won’t try and cross the border.

Excerpts from Tuesday August 31 Arizona Republic.

Migrants say Arizona worth risk of crossing
by Amanda Lee Myers and Julie Watson – Aug. 31, 2010 01:21 PM
Associated Press


But at the Pima County morgue in Tucson, the body bags are stacked on stainless-steel shelves from floor to ceiling. A refrigerated truck has been brought in to handle the overflow at the multimillion dollar facility.

In July, 59 people died – 40 in the first two weeks when nighttime temperatures were the hottest in recorded history, hovering around the low 90s. The single-month death count is second only to July 2005, when 68 bodies were found.

Of this July’s deaths, 44 were on the Tohono O’Odham Nation, a reservation the size of Connecticut that shares 75 miles of Arizona’s border with Mexico. The tribe is opposed to humanitarian aid on its lands, believing it invites violence.

Eighteen more people died in the first 23 days of August.

So far this year, the body count is at 171, the same number the Pima County Medical Examiner’s Office had seen at this time in 2007, the year the office saw a record 217 deaths.

Most of the deceased were young, healthy men – at least at the outset of their trips. By the time they reach the morgue, many are in advanced stages of decomposition and beyond recognition. Bag after bag is tagged with “John Doe” or “Jane Doe” as officials wait for families to come forward to report loved ones missing.

“We thought the political climate in Arizona would be a significant deterrent to people crossing but as far as the deaths are concerned, they certainly have been what looks like is going to be the highest they’ve ever been,” said the morgue’s Dr. Eric Peters.

That doesn’t surprise Border Patrol Agent Colleen Agle, who works in the agency’s Tucson sector.

“Smugglers are the ones who determine where to take people, where they’re going to be walking, and they’re the ones deciding that certain areas are preferable,” Agle said. “They know they’re remote and they know we have difficulty accessing them, so they’re taking people through those areas. Unfortunately they’re just putting people’s lives at risk.”

Worried about their profits, smugglers will leave behind people who are injured or fall ill, she said.

Agle said smugglers often lie to immigrants, telling them they’ll only walk a couple of hours when they actually walk for days. Even so, the agency discourages water stations for crossers because authorities say it encourages people to risk the journey.


That would be the vast and treacherous Tohono O’Odham Nation that has barred water stations and has banned members of Humane Borders and No More Deaths from stepping foot on the reservation.

Tribal leaders blame illegal immigrants and smugglers for crimes on their land. Two years ago, the tribe dismantled four 55-gallon tanks being filled up by one of its members, Mike Wilson.

Tohono O’Odham Chairman Ned Norris Jr. said the tribe is both compassionate and understanding of the migrants’ plight, but with the increased crossings “problems develop, people begin to resent things, people begin to defend their rights, to defend themselves, defend their property and their livelihood.

“We didn’t ask for this situation,” Norris said. “The fact that the U.S. government increased security to the east and the west of the nation … really created a funnel effect of illegal migrant activity and drug activity on tribal land.”

Check out the whole article  Migrants say Arizona worth risk of crossing   as it also covers the view of why immgrants risk their lives trying to cross Arizona’s deserts.

About Hugh Holub

Attorney and writer.
This entry was posted in border issues, border security. Bookmark the permalink.

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