he number of migrants dying from extreme heat on the US-Mexico border rose 55 percent in the last nine months after an increase in unaccompanied children and families trying to enter the United States illegally, the US government said on Monday.
Heat-related deaths, the main cause of migrant fatalities on the US southwest border, rose to 48, up from 31 over the same period in 2017, said US Customs and Border Patrol spokesman Salvador Zamora.
The death toll is expected to rise in the triple-digit heat of summer months as vulnerable, unacclimatized immigrants attempt to cross harsh environments, putting border fatalities on track for a year-on-year increase in 2018, Zamora said.
The Border Patrol recorded a 12 percent year-on-year rise in immigrant arrests in the eight months to May 31, Zamora said.
“We are geared up to surpass last year’s heat-related deaths and the summer is just beginning,” he said in a telephone interview.
“The demographics of the illegal aliens we are apprehending, the family units, the unaccompanied children, they’re a lot more vulnerable.”
Humanitarian groups such as San Diego, California-based Border Angels say the main cause of rising deaths is tighter border security and law enforcement, such as the recent imposition of a “zero tolerance” policy for illegal border crossers. This has prompted migrants to make long treks through hostile terrain via remote crossing points.
“We’ve seen people crossing in more dangerous areas, so even though there’s less people crossing there are more people dying,” said Enrique Morones, founder of the group whose volunteers leave water for migrants.