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Fatal Footsteps: Murder of Undocumented Border Crossers in Maricopa County, Arizona

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In the past 5 years, the mortality rate among undocumented workers in Arizona has increased steadily. In 1998–1999, the number of deaths among border crossers was 28. That number increased dramatically in 1999–2000 to 106 and has exceeded 200 in each of the past 2 years. In the past, many immigrant deaths occurred as a result of dehydration and exposure (1). More recently, a new trend has emerged, that is, death of border crossers at the hands of the persons (“coyotes”) hired to lead them across the border to safety. In some cases, the smugglers attempt to extort additional money from the families by holding the victims hostage once they have crossed the border into the United States. If the families fail to pay, the hostage is killed. Rival gangs are also murdering one another over their human cargo. Nine recent cases illustrate this trend in Maricopa County. In each example, the victims were bound, shot (or in one instance stabbed) and dumped in a remote desert area. All of the decedents were linked to murder for extortion by the ‘‘coyotes’’ or rival gang members.
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Keywords: border issues; forensic anthropology; forensic science; homicide

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Forensic Science Center, 701 W. Jefferson, Phoenix, AZ 85007.

Publication date: January 1, 2008

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