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Migrant deaths at 79, up from last year

August 21, 2001|By DARREN SIMON, Staff Writer

The Imperial Valley desert claimed another life Monday as the body of a woman thought to be an undocumented immigrant was found in the wilderness near Ocotillo.

Her death was one of a mounting number in the treacherous terrain of the Valley desert, which has seen temperatures regularly soar over 100 degrees during the summer.

While people dying in the Imperial Valley while trying to cross illegally is nothing new, local authorities say they have been "swamped" and the summer is far from over.

The discovery of the woman's body came just two days after another woman, also an undocumented immigrant, died in the Ocotillo area.

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Border Patrol officials said as of Monday there had been 79 documented border-crossing deaths in Imperial County. The federal fiscal year starts Oct. 1 and ends Sept. 30.

Those deaths include those who have died in the desert, in local canals and in traffic accidents.

Border Patrol Agent Manuel Figueroa said the 79 deaths has surpassed the total of such deaths for last fiscal year, during which 77 immigrants died.

Figueroa said while authorities are hopeful the deaths will cease, the reality is it's likely more people will die this summer as they continue to try to cross the border illegally.

He said in 1998 more immigrants than ever died in Imperial County while crossing the border illegally. That year the number of deaths reached 90. Figueroa said this year's totals could come close to the 1998 mark.

Authorities are trying to prevent that.

The Imperial Valley recently received a group of specially trained Border Patrol agents known as the Border Patrol Search Trauma and Rescue Team who are working to bolster local rescue efforts.

Authorities also are trying to work more closely with Mexican authorities who patrol the border in rescue efforts.

However, officials say, the reality is more people are going to continue to try to cross the border illegally and the 100-plus-degree weather will likely continue for several more weeks.

Staff Writer Darren Simon can be reached at 337-4082.

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