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Human Remains, Belongings Mark Migrants’ Treacherous Trails to U.S.

Photos of the personal belongings of unidentified migrants

A photo of a handwritten "Prayer to María," (Virgin Mary), part of a the items found among those who have died crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. Griselda Nevarez

TUCSON, Ariz. — Rosaries, toothbrushes, combs, cell phones and at times human remains mark the treacherous paths from Mexico to the U.S. that migrants continue to risk.

The bodies and remains are kept inside a morgue, where temperatures average around 40°F, at the Pima County Office of the Medical Examiner in Tucson, Arizona. Their personal belongings are stored in a separate room, where they await study in the hope they hold the tales of their owners.

The Colibrí Center for Human Rights, which works with the medical examiner's office and families to identify the bodies and remains, says the personal belongings help show who the migrants trying to cross the border were and the consequences they endured in making the dangerous trek across the desert, where the temperatures soar well above 100°F during the hot summer months.

The items, like the remains, are evidence of the human toll of the illegal migration and indicative of how much those seeking to get to the U.S. are willing to risk.

Policy questions linger after Trump speech 5:10

Fortification of the border in other areas have pushed migrants to take riskier paths to this country and ignited debate over whether border security acts as a deterrent or sends migrants on more deadly journeys.

Supporters of GOP nominee Donald Trump often shout "BUILD THE WALL" as a rallying cry and advocates of more security say it would deter illegal migration.

But the remains and items show that as barriers toughen, so too could the horrific deaths of those trying to get to the U.S.

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According to the Pima County medical examiner, there were an average of 12 migrant deaths per year between 1990 and 2000 on the U.S.-Mexico border. That number began to increase as enforcement along the U.S.-Mexico border tightened. Today, there are an average of 170 migrant deaths per year for that section of the border alone.

At the medical examiner's office, there are about 900 unidentified bodies and sets of remains of migrants who have died while trying to cross the border illegally through Arizona.

Below are some of the personal belongings of unidentified migrants who were found along Arizona's southern border this year, as well as the remains kept at the morgue.

Photos of the personal belongings of unidentified migrants
A rosary is part of the personal belongings of unidentified migrants which are collected to try to identify the identities of those who have lost their lives crossing the border. Griselda Nevarez
Photos of the personal belongings of unidentified migrants
A letter that reads "a prayer for the Virgin Mary," part of the belongings found among those who have died crossing the Mexico-U.S. border. Griselda Nevarez
Photos of the morgue where the bodies are kept
Photos of unidentified bodies at the Pima County, Arizona, Medical Examiners Office. Griselda Nevarez
Photos of the morgue where the bodies are kept
Body bags at the Pima County Medical Examiners Office hold the remains of those who have died crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. Griselda Nevarez
Photos of the personal belongings of unidentified migrants
Personal belongings of unidentified migrants who have died crossing the Mexico-U.S. border. Griselda Nevarez
Photos of the personal belongings of unidentified migrants
Personal belongings, including cell phones, belonging to people who have died crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. Griselda Nevarez

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