Harrowing Photographs of Migrants Making the Perilous Journey Through the Arizona Desert
by Julia Sabot on October 24, 2013 ·
Forty-three year old Acevedo Guadalupe-Herrera from Ahuacatitlan, Guerrero, Mexico, lays unconscious surrounded by medical officials next to a ranch off Elephant Head Road near Green Valley, Arizona, August 8, 2009. Guadalupe-Herrera was found by a ranch hand and was presumed to be dead, although he recovered with the help of IV fluids and medical attention. He had been walking for five days with little water and no food.
After the creation of the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1994, the US made several attempts to stymie and fortify undocumented movement in established crossings zones beginning with the introduction of Operation Gatekeeper in San Diego, and Operation Hold The Line in El Paso, Texas. One intended and reported result of the operation was to funnel undocumented movement into geographically inhospitable areas of the Sonora desert in Arizona in an attempt to deter potential migrants from crossing the border.
As a result of the longer and hotter path through the desert in Arizona, border deaths in this region have increased dramatically. A study by the Bi-national Migration Institute states that from 1990 to 2012, the Pima County Office of the Medical Examiner examined the remains of 2,238 migrants. Of these deaths, over 750 cases remain unidentified. While apprehension numbers have fallen in recent years, deaths throughout the region have not seen a similar reduction. According to the conservative death estimates of the Border Patrol statistics there were 177 deaths in the Tucson region in 2011 alone.—Matt Nager
Having traveled a fair amount through Latin America, Denver-based photographer Matt Nager had a great interest in shooting a story on the border. In 2008, he came across an article about advances in DNA testing to help identify bodies found in the desert of Arizona. That sparked his interest, and he spent the next year researching the issue and the striking numbers of migrant deaths occurring in Southern Arizona.
During the summer of 2009, Nager spent two months working in Tucson and around Southern Arizona. He spent time with Border Patrol and activist groups who help people who are struggling in the desert. Nager spent a week at the sheriff’s office, which is the first official organization called when a body is found. He photographed inside the medical examiners office during an exam of an unidentified body. Additionally, he spent time with and photographed in the mortuary in Tucson where they cremate bodies that have been unsuccessfully identified.
In the years since this project, it appears as if the issue has largely gone unchanged. Statistics show that deaths continue to occur at rates nearing 200 bodies per year. As technology advances, it will undoubtedly become easier to identify bodies. There is now a website, Humane Borders, that documents where each body was found as well as the gender and name of that individual.
The US-Mexico border fence is highlighted by Border Patrol headlights under a bright moon in Sasabe, Arizona., Friday, June 5, 2009. Building the wall along the border has resulted in migrants following more secluded and dangerous routes where the wall has not been built. Continue reading