TUCSON, (Pakistan Point News - APP - 03rd Nov, 2016 ) - A tiny orange-striped baby sock, a hand-written prayer on a crumpled piece of paper, or a lock of hair. The items may seem meaningless, but for Robin Reineke, they hold precious clues to the identity of the migrants who carried them and whose remains are regularly found in Arizona's harsh Sonoran Desert. The 34-year-old cultural anthropologist who runs the Colibri Center for Human Rights in Tucson, Arizona, has for several years been helping families look for missing relatives who disappear while crossing illicitly from Central America and Mexico into the United States.
As US politicians argue on how best to tackle illegal immigration -- which has emerged as a dominant issue in the White House race -- Reineke pieces together the human cost of an exodus along America's southern border that has proved a challenge to successive administrations. "The reality I have witnessed over the last decade is that we have a human catastrophe happening," Reineke told AFP at her center, located in the Pima County medical examiner's office .
"An average of 175 remains are recovered from the desert every year. That's equivalent to a plane crash every single year in southern Arizona for 10, 15 years on end." The number of dead has significantly increased since 2000, after the US government boosted security along the border -- particularly in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks -- deploying thousands of border patrol agents and building fences. The measures have forced desperate migrants fleeing violence and poverty in their countries to look for alternative routes in remote and dangerous areas where many die of dehydration or, in winter, hypothermia.
"It's a very painful, horrible, lonely death," Reineke said. "And it's hard to know that people are going through this like a half hour drive from my home." The death toll spikes during the summer months when temperatures can reach 122 degrees (50 Celsius) in the desert, said Gregory Hess, Pima County's chief medical examiner. "At present, we have about 900 bodies that are unidentified," Hess said, adding that the vast majority were recovered after the year 2000.