Border Crosser Deaths in the Arizona-Mexico Desert: Data on Remains 2001–2020

Jerome F. Koleski, Sommer Aldulaimi, Alicia M. Allen, Patrick Rivers, Lee Anne Denny

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Introduction. Increased enforcement at U.S.-Mexico border-crossing sites may lead migrants to cross in remote desert areas. Methods. We reviewed data on migrants’ bodies found along the Arizona-Mexico border from 2001 to 2020. We analyzed causes of death, condition of bodies, age, and sex, and the relationship of deaths to enforcement (arrests) by U.S. Border Patrol. Results. From 2001–2020, 3,378 border-crosser bodies were found in the desert. As enforcement increased, bodies were found in more remote areas and later stages of decomposition. Skeletonized bodies increased from 19% in 2001–2004 to 49.1% in 2017–2020. When the cause of death could be identified, exposure to the elements was the most common cause. Abrupt increases in arrests and deaths over the immediately preceding period of 2013–2016 occurred in 2017–2020. Conclusions. Undetermined cause of death and increased skeletonization became more common, indicating bodies are discovered later. Enforcement does not decrease individuals crossing the border; rather, individuals cross in more remote areas.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)398-406
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of health care for the poor and underserved
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2022


  • Cause of death
  • Emigration and immigration
  • Law enforcement
  • Transients and migrants

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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