By Brock N. Meeks Chief Washington correspondent
msnbc.com
updated 7/25/2005 1:37:14 PM ET 2005-07-25T17:37:14

People are dying in record numbers trying to get into the United States.

In the first 25 days of July, 98 people have died in the desert along the U.S.-Mexico border while attempting to illegally enter the country. In July 2004, 60 people died in the same area for the entire month of July, according to the U.S. Border Patrol.

It is desperation or hope or fantasy or any number of reasons that drives people north from Mexico to illegally cross the border and into the searing triple-digit heat of the desert that makes up most of that passage.  The summer months are known to Border Patrol officials as the “killing season.” Since October, 337 people have died in the desert, a record number. 

Last year's death toll along the southwestern border during the same period was 224 people. The death toll for the full fiscal year along that border was 330 people. 

Some 51 percent of the 1.1 million illegal immigrants apprehended by border patrol agents last year crossed the 370 mile-long border between Arizona and Mexico.

In March the government beefed up security along the southwestern border in Arizona, putting more technology and agents into the area that has become the main channel for illegal immigration. 

With the crackdown, the Border Patrol is seeking to gain “operational control,” over the area.  But critics claim such moves only push those trying to cross the border to take more dangerous routes, though areas with nicknames like “The Devil’s Path,” in Yuma, Ariz., where temperatures can hit 120 degrees, so hot that every breath burns the nose and throat.  Rescue workers report often finding spent injectible Xylocaine used to help deaden pain.

“There is a perception that Arizona is an easier access route” because it is less secure, said Salvador Zamora, a Border Patrol spokesman. “Most of the deaths occur in the west desert corridor.”

Because of various crackdowns and border security actions, those seeking to cross the border now have to walk four or five days across the desert instead of traveling four our five hours to attempt entry in more urban areas, Zamora said. 

“Out in the desert, people just get disoriented, turned around.  It’s like being in the middle of the sea with no visual references,” Zamora said.

The Border Patrol acknowledges that it’s stepped up border initiatives push migrant traffic to the fringe areas; however, they also cite the fact that they’re flying more helicopters in the region and putting more of its elite Border Patrol Search, Trauma and Rescue (BORSTAR) units in the field, not only for apprehension purposes, but to save lives as well.

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