TUCSON, Arizona – Dozens of people carrying white wooden crosses, flowers and photographs marched through the streets of Tucson to honor the memory of the migrants who die each year on Arizona’s border with Mexico.
“I’m carrying a photograph of my brother because it reminds me of when I held him as a child,” Mexican immigrant Maria Carvajal said.
Carvajal’s 32-year-old brother, Rene, died in the Arizona desert while trying to re-enter the United States illegally after being deported in August 2009.
Rene, a native of the northern Mexican state of Chihuahua, decided to “take a chance” and try to cross the border again because he “had no other option,” the 42-year-old woman said.
“Rene had been living in Arizona more than 10 years (and) his wife, his five children, his mother and his siblings lived here. He could not return alone to Mexico,” Carvajal said as she marched.
The Mexican migrant, who worked two jobs to support his family, was arrested by Tucson police for driving without a license and turned over to immigration agents.
“We knew he was going to try to cross the border again. We did not hear from him for 13 days and on Aug. 18, 2009, they notified us that they had found his body,” a teary-eyed Carvajal said.
A total of 183 migrants died while trying to cross the border during fiscal year 2011, which ended on Sept. 30, the Arizona Human Rights Coalition said.
The report is based on figures from the Pima County coroner’s office in southern Arizona.
A total of 166 migrants died from Oct. 1, 2010, to late August 2011, representing 68 fewer deaths from the comparable prior reporting period, the Border Patrol’s Tucson sector, which covers about 90 percent of the border region in Arizona, said.
The Border Patrol’s final figures for fiscal year 2011 are not yet available.
“Other factors must be taken into account” in looking at the drop in the number of deaths from the 253 registered in the prior fiscal year, Arizona Human Rights Coalition spokeswoman Kat Rodriguez said.
A total of 183 deaths were reported in fiscal year 2009, but the number of arrests of migrants was higher, Rodriguez said.
“We’re seeing fewer people crossing but the same number of deaths, and that’s just the bodies that are recovered. We’ll likely never know the true number of people who died in the desert,” Rodriguez said.
This is the 11th annual march organized by the coalition to honor those who died trying to cross the border into Arizona.
The coalition has made 2,287 crosses since the first march in 2000, with each bearing the name of a dead migrant or the word “unknown” for those whose remains have not been identified.
The activists marched for about four hours on Saturday from a church in the southern section of Tucson to Mission San Xavier del Bac on the city’s outskirts.
The crosses from this year’s march were added to a circle of crosses from previous years at the end of the event to honor the dead.