Death by Policy: Crisis In The Arizona Desert (A Latino USA Podcast)

Dec 2, 2022
11:21 AM
Originally published at Latino USA

The Blue Armadillos Search and Rescue, a team of volunteers based in San Diego, California, travel down to the Sonora Desert in southern Arizona twice a month to search for lost and missing migrants. Because they so often find remains of people who have succumbed to the extreme heat in the desert, they carry wooden crosses on their backs along with water, food, and first aid supplies. The crosses are heavy and make the already challenging and dangerous hike even tougher, but the volunteers say it’s important to try and restore some dignity to the human beings who have lost their lives alone in the desert. (Photo by Jess Alvarenga/Futuro Media)


Jess Alvarenga contributed field reporting to this investigation.

In this year-long investigation from Futuro Investigates, we dig into how the U.S. government and Border Patrol’s decades-long “prevention through deterrence” policies have knowingly created a deadly funnel, pushing migrants attempting to cross from Mexico to the U.S. into the deadliest terrain in the country, including the Sonoran Desert in southern Arizona.

Over the last two decades, more than 4,000 remains of people believed to have died attempting to cross the border have been recovered from this region. And many more people have disappeared. Last year, 225 deaths were recorded in this stretch of southern Arizona. The actual death toll is unknown, but experts say it is likely much higher than has been reported.

As a result, for years, a number of volunteer organizations have made it their mission to go out into the most dangerous areas of the desert to conduct water drops and to search for missing people. We examine why volunteers, lacking the financial resources and manpower of U.S. agencies, have to continue to take on this dangerous work as Border Patrol’s multi-billion dollar budget continues to increase, including money earmarked specifically for search and rescue. We also speak with a network of local organizations, activists, volunteers and officials who are taking on the challenge of trying to identify the remains of those who’ve perished without identification in hopes of one day being able to return them home to their families.


Latino USA with Maria Hinojosa, produced by Futuro Media, is the longest-running Latino-focused program on U.S. public media.