Border-crossing deaths surging

Fewer people are illegally crossing America’s southwest border with Mexico, but the region saw a big increase in immigrant deaths in 2012, according to a report set to be released today.

U.S. Border Patrol identified 477 deaths along the southwest border, up from 375 the year before, according to the report from the National Foundation for American Policy, an Arlington, Va.-based group that researches immigration issues. That 27 percent increase in deaths comes even as total migration from Mexico has slowed in recent years.

Stuart Anderson, executive director of the foundation and author of the report, said the rise in deaths may add support to the drive for a complete immigration overhaul that is being negotiated in Congress.

“The primary reason that people are dying is that there’s not a legal work visa for them to come legally,” Anderson said. “These are rational people who are trying to work and support their families. If you had a widely available, legal work visa ... they would choose to come in legally.”

Customs and Border Protection spokesman Bill Brooks said they also saw a 25 percent increase in rescues of people struggling to make the journey in 2012. He said more than 900 Border Patrol agents are trained emergency medical technicians and that the agency has been installing emergency beacons to help stranded immigrants.

“CBP works hard to avoid loss of life among those who attempt to enter the U.S. illegally,” Brooks said. “CBP reminds those who might consider attempting to illegally cross of the dangers involved, from smugglers who may seek to exploit them to harsh physical conditions.”

Part of the reason for the rise in deaths is the increase in Border Patrol agents that has driven immigrants to more remote, treacherous areas along the border.

The largest increase in deaths came along the easternmost sector in Texas, the Rio Grande Valley Sector, where deaths more than doubled in 2012

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