Nearly 750 migrants have died at the southern border this fiscal year, a record that surpasses last year’s total by more than 200 people, according to Department of Homeland Security figures shared with CNN.
Migrants often face treacherous terrain when crossing the border – including oppressive desert heat, dangerous waters and falling from the border wall.
Since October 1, which marks the start of the fiscal year, there have been 748 deaths, a Homeland Security official told CNN, with a month still left to go in the fiscal year. That’s up from 557 southwest border deaths during fiscal year 2021, the previous record.
The figures don’t always capture all deaths, as other state and local agencies may recover bodies without Border Patrol involvement, meaning the number of deaths is likely higher.
Last week, the bodies of at least eight migrants trying to cross the US border from Mexico were found in the Rio Grande, Customs and Border Protection said. The remains were discovered by agents and Mexican authorities while rescuing other migrants in the river.
An increasing number of migrants continue to appear at the US-Mexico border as conditions deteriorate in Latin America. Arrests of migrants along the US southern border this year remained high, including during months when numbers usually dip, meaning that thousands were exposed to even more difficult elements.
In July, the US Border Patrol made more than 181,000 arrests on the US southern border, according to the latest available agency data.
In the past, many migrant deaths have been related to heat exposure, according to the Border Patrol.
Advocates for migrants say they may be forced to take increasingly risky paths to reach the US, citing border policies like a Trump-era pandemic emergency restriction that allows authorities to turn people away at the border.
“Migrants, refugees, and entire families are using more distant and dangerous routes to come to the United States,” Fernando García, executive director of the Border Network for Human Rights, previously told CNN.
Deaths along the US southern border have been rising over the years. In fiscal year 2020, there were 247 deaths and 300 deaths in 2019, marking a significant increase amid a 30-record year for border crossings. The agency data on deaths dates to 1998.
Customs and Border Protection declined to comment on the figures, but said smugglers are taking advantage of desperate migrants.
“Transnational criminal organizations continue to recklessly endanger the lives of individuals they smuggle for their own financial gain with no regard for human life,” CBP said in a statement. “Smuggling organizations are abandoning migrants in remote and dangerous areas, leading to a rise in the number of rescues but also tragically a rise in the number of deaths. The terrain along the border is extreme, the summer heat is severe, and the miles of desert migrants must hike after crossing the border in many areas are unforgiving.”
So far this fiscal year, there have been nearly 19,000 searches and rescues along the US southern border, according to CBP – an increase from 12,833 in fiscal year 2021.