[Marxism] Crowded morgues

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Thu Jul 29 11:27:23 MDT 2010

(There's a breezy tone about this article that betrays the 
underlying racism of the paper.)

NY Times July 28, 2010
An Arizona Morgue Grows Crowded

TUCSON — Dr. Bruce Parks unzips a white body bag on a steel gurney 
and gingerly lifts out a human skull and mandible, turning them 
over in his hands and examining the few teeth still in their sockets.

The body bag, coated with dust, also contains a broken pelvis, a 
femur and a few smaller bones found in the desert in June, along 
with a pair of white sneakers.

“These are people who are probably not going to be identified,” 
said Dr. Parks, the chief medical examiner for Pima County. There 
are eight other body bags crowded on the gurney.

The Pima County morgue is running out of space as the number of 
Latin American immigrants found dead in the deserts around Tucson 
has soared this year during a heat wave.

The rise in deaths comes as Arizona is embroiled in a bitter legal 
battle over a new law intended to discourage illegal immigrants 
from settling here by making it a state crime for them to live or 
seek work.

But the law has not kept the immigrants from trying to cross 
hundreds of miles of desert on foot in record-breaking heat. The 
bodies of 57 border crossers have been brought in during July so 
far, putting it on track to be the worst month for such deaths in 
the last five years.

Since the first of the year, more than 150 people suspected of 
being illegal immigrants have been found dead, well above the 107 
discovered during the same period in each of the last two years. 
The sudden spike in deaths has overwhelmed investigators and 
pathologists at the Pima County Medical Examiner’s Office. Two 
weeks ago, Dr. Parks was forced to bring in a refrigerated truck 
to store the remains of two dozen people because the building’s 
two units were full.

“We can store about 200 full-sized individuals, but we have over 
300 people here now, and most of those are border crossers,” Dr. 
Parks said. “We keep hoping we have seen the worst of this, of 
these migration deaths. Yet we still see a lot of remains.”

The increase in deaths has happened despite many signs that the 
number of immigrants crossing the border illegally has dropped in 
recent years. The number of people caught trying to sneak across 
the frontier without a visa has fallen in each of the last five 
years and stands at about half of the record 616,000 arrested in 2000.

Not only has the economic downturn in the United States eliminated 
many of the jobs that used to lure immigrants, human rights groups 
say, but also the federal government has stepped up efforts to 
stop the underground railroad of migrants, building mammoth fences 
in several border towns and flooding the region with hundreds of 
new Border Patrol agents equipped with high-tech surveillance tools.

These tougher enforcement measures have pushed smugglers and 
illegal immigrants to take their chances on isolated trails 
through the deserts and mountains of southern Arizona, where they 
must sometimes walk for three or four days before reaching a road.

“As we gain more control, the smugglers are taking people out to 
even more remote areas,” said Omar Candelaria, the special 
operations supervisor for the Border Patrol’s Tucson Sector. “They 
have further to walk and they are less prepared for the journey, 
and they don’t make it.”

Mr. Candelaria said the surge in discoveries of bodies this year 
might also owe something to increased patrols. He noted that some 
of the remains found this year belong to people who died in 
previous years. But Dr. Parks said that could not account for the 
entire increase this year. Indeed, the majority of bodies brought 
in during July, Dr. Parks said, were dead less than a week.

Human rights groups say it is the government’s sustained crackdown 
on human smuggling that has led to more deaths.

“The more that you militarize the border, the more you push the 
migrant flows into more isolated and desolate areas, and people 
hurt or injured are just left behind,” said Kat Rodriguez, a 
spokeswoman for the Coalición de Derechos Humanos in Tucson.

At the medical examiner’s office in Tucson, Dr. Park’s team of 
five investigators, six pathologists and one forensic 
anthropologist face an enormous backlog of more than 150 
unidentified remains, with one case going back as far as 1993.

Every day, they labor to match remains with descriptions provided 
by people who have called their office to report a missing 
relative, or with reports collected by human rights groups and by 
Mexican authorities.

Since 2000, Dr. Park’s office has handled more than 1,700 
border-crossing cases, and officials here have managed to confirm 
the identities of about 1,050 of the remains.

Investigators sift through the things the dead carried for clues — 
Mexican voter registration cards, telephone numbers scrawled on 
scraps of paper, jewelry, rosaries, family photographs. Often 
there is precious little to go on.

“We had one gentleman who came in as bones, but around his wrist 
there was a bracelet from a Mexican Hospital that had his 
picture,” said David Valenzuela, one of the investigators.

If no documents are found, the task becomes harder. Many of the 
deceased immigrants were too poor to have visited doctors or 
dentists on a regular basis, so dental or medical records may not 
exist. Sometimes, a family photograph of the deceased smiling 
widely is all investigators have to document dental work.

On a recent morning, Bruce Anderson, the forensic anthropologist 
in the office, was examining the skeleton of an adolescent boy, 
whose age was somewhere between 14 and 17. His mummified remains 
were found on the Tohono O’odham Indian Reservation west of Tucson 
on July 15. The only lead to his identity was a missing front 
tooth and the neighboring teeth crowded together in the space.

Dr. Anderson called the Coalición de Derechos Humanos, who had a 
report of a 13-year-old who had been reported missing this year 
after crossing the border near Sonoyta, Mexico.

The charity immediately contacted the boy’s family to see if he 
had lost a permanent tooth. Dr. Anderson was still waiting for a 

The process takes time, and remains keep piling up. On Monday, Mr. 
Anderson faced a backlog of 14 new skeletons, in addition to the 
40 active cases he is investigating, he said. “One person can’t 
keep up with this load,” he said.

The pathologists are also under strain. One day last week, Dr. 
Cynthia Porterfield did five autopsies, on remains of border 
crossers who died in the desert.

Dr. Porterfield was able to identify one: Jesse Palma Valenzuela, 
30, who died on July 12. Three of his travel companions had tried 
to carry his body back to Mexico but became tired and abandoned 
him, wrapped in a blanket and positioned off the ground in a tree 
to keep animals from eating him. Then they crossed back into 
Mexico and notified the Border Patrol.

Agents discovered Mr. Valenzuela’s body on July 17, right where 
his friends said it would be, about two-and-a-half miles east of 
Lukeville, Ariz., not far from the border. Though decomposed, he 
was still recognizable.

“He’s got quite a few tattoos,” Dr. Porterfield said. “It is how 
the family ID’d him.”

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