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Jun 27, 2012 8:33 PM

U.S./Mexico governments working together to reduce desert deaths

TUCSON - Temperatures in the Sonoran Desert can soar as high as 120 degrees. It's extremely dangerous for immigrants crossing through. Many often fall to their death from the extreme heat.

Everyday people make the decision to cross the border into this harsh desert environment in hopes of making it out alive, but instead leave a grieving family behind.

Juan Carlos Juarez said family members from his native Puebla, Mexico want to cross the desert to join him in the U.S. "I tell them it's better for them to stay home," said Juarez.

He said he doesn't want them to fall victim to human smugglers. "A lot of people, just to get quick money, will lie to these border crossers and abandon them in the desert once they are paid," said Juarez. "That's how tragedies happen."

They are tragedies that end up at the Pima County Medical Examiner's office.

Gregory Hess is the Chief Medical Examiner of Pima County. He said each month his office receives bodies found in the desert. In the month of June alone, he's already received 19. "Probably we'll end up identifying about 60 percent of those people," said Hess.

It's a difficult task because many of these immigrants who brave the journey have fake ID's or none at all, and depending on how long their body has been out in the desert temperatures, there may be little to examine once their remains are sent to the medical examiner.

"The hotter the environment, the quicker the decomposition changes will occur," said Hess.

To prevent these deaths, border patrol has implemented several programs.

They have Rescue Beacons in the desert and air public service announcements in the United States, Mexico, even Central America on the dangers of crossing the border illegally.

"It is dangerous and these smuggling organizations don't care about you," said Brent Cagen, U.S. Border Patrol Tucson sector.

Isaias Noguez, with the Mexican Consulate said more checkpoints have been added to the border over the past few years.

That and more man power steers traffickers to tougher and more isolated terrain.

"And people don't know that," said Noguez.

It's another reason the Mexican Consulate also puts out public service announcements discouraging illegal crossings.

Noguez said since 2010, there's been a slight drop in Mexican Nationals trying to cross the border.

He said their studies haven't pin-pointed the exact reason, but hopes this campaign and word of mouth will discourage more from crossing.

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