Arizona Morgue Prepares for Migrant Deaths

PHOTO: Freezer at the Pima County Medical Examiners Office in Tucson. It was built to handle the overflow of bodies as the summer heats up and migrants begin to die.

Michel Marizco/ Fronteras Desk

TUCSON, Ariz. — In Southern Arizona, medical examiners and federal immigration agents are preparing for another year of dozens of deaths in the desert as people try crossing the border illegally.

This year, officials say, they’ve developed a map showing exactly how many people have died in their attempts over the years.

The massive door to the freezer slides open at the Pima County Medical Examiner’s Office. The freezer was built to handle the overflow of bodies brought here, people who died from heat stroke and dehydration as they tried walking through the desert. It’s used in the summer.

So far this year 47 migrants have died.

"Typically in June we’ll go up to 20. July in 2010 we had 55,” said Dr. Gregory Hess, the medical examiner.

The remains of those who are not identified are eventually cremated. It has led to mysteries and confusion as remains pile up. So Hess and local volunteers at Humane Borders have published a digital map people can use to sort through who has been found in the desert and where.

By Michel Marizco Freezer at the Pima County Medical Examiner's Office in Tucson. It was built to handle the overflow of bodies as the summer heats up and migrants begin to die.

"You can search by cause of death, you can search by location, you can search by age, you can search by gender," Hess said.

The map will be made available to the public on Monday.

Every year, about 240 people crossing the border into Arizona are found dead. Some of those people are never identified. The map, Hess said, may help put a name this summer to some of the remains in the freezer.

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