Undocumented immigration into the United States via the Mexican border has been a topic of national debate for over two decades; in part because of the high number of migrants dying as they attempt to clandestinely enter the country. Since 2001, almost 2,500 undocumented border crossers (UBCs) have perished in the Sonoran Desert, a region falling under the jurisdiction of the Pima County Office of the Medical Examiner in Tucson, AZ. The PCOME covers 11 of the 15 Arizona counties, including the four bordering Mexico; averaging over 170 UBC deaths a year with an identification rate approximating 64% (PCOME, 2016). The purpose of this research is to examine the geospatial properties of the human remains recovered in their jurisdiction and investigate the distribution of individuals throughout this wide geographic area.
There are two goals of project. One is to create a predictive model to apply to future individuals recovered in southern Arizona, combining open geographic information systems data on recovery location and diagnostic skeletal feat ures of the cranium associated with geographic ancestry (country of origin). These models will permit more directed comparisons to potentially increase identifications. For example, when an individual is recovered from a region associated with a significant number of Guatemalans and this unknown individuals biological profile is most similar to Guatemalans, missing reports of Guatemalan migrants will be considered first.
The second goal is to build upon previous forensic anthropological research regarding migrant issues through the collection of skeletal data from populations often associated with international immigrants. This work is necessary to understand global human variation and to increase relevant skeletal reference data for the now approximately 55.3 million Hispanic individuals living in the U.S. (Stepler & Brown, 2016). Reflecting changing American demographics, Hispanic individuals, the generalized population term used to describe UBCs in southern Arizona, are as probable as other groups to be the subject of medico-legal death investigations.
The culmination of this research will provide forensic experts additional data to aid in the investigation and identification of UBCs recovered from the Sonoran Desert in southern Arizona. Any information that leads to successful identifications is valuable for the repatriation of the dead and to provide closure to the families of the missing.