Migrant deaths in the Arizona desert have spiked 20 percent in fiscal year 2009, according to statistics from the U.S. Border Patrol's Tucson Sector.
Border Patrol agents found 191 bodies in the desert between October 1, 2008 and the end of August.
During the same time period the year before, there were 159 deaths.
National Border Patrol spokesman Mark Qualia says it's hard to know whether the increased death rate is real or apparent. Rowe says recent increases in technology and personnel have allowed the Border Patrol to reach deeper into the desert; as the agency has expanded coverage, it has found more remains.
"These skeletal remains are difficult to date," says Qualia, adding that many of the recently found remains could be from previous years.
But Liana Row, Phoenix coordinator for Humane Borders, a humanitarian group that places water stations in the desert for migrants, believes the actual number of border crossing-related deaths are much higher than reported.
"Every time we go out to do a search for somebody, we find additional remains," Rowe says. "There's no way the numbers reflect what is actually happening out there."
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