Migration is as old as humanity, but high rates of migrant death are not. Beginning in the mid-1990’s, new enforcement strategies targeted heavy surveillance and personnel at traditional and safe entry points along the U.S.-Mexico border, making any attempt to cross more deadly than ever before. These militarization policies rested on the theory of prevention through deterrence, but despite initial predictions, did not deter would-be migrants from crossing. Instead, they funneled migration paths into remote and treacherous areas of the desert, creating a crisis of death and disappearance that continues today.


As a consequence of border militarization, we have seen an unprecedented increase in the number of people dying in their attempts to cross the border. Since 1998, more than 7,216 men, women, and children have lost their lives while crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. In Arizona alone, at least 2,776 people died between the years 2001 and 2016.

This devastating loss of life is compounded by the number of people missing and the families who search for them, often not knowing where to turn for help. Colibrí has records for more than 2,400 migrants reported missing by their families. Meanwhile, hundreds of remains that have been recovered from the desert have yet to be identified, labeled “John” or “Jane Doe” in county morgues and city cemeteries across the region.

Families suffer each day a loved one is missing. Their situation is made even worse by the difficult realities of navigating intricate legal systems, overcoming language barriers, and risking the pain of deportation and abuse. To these families, information is medicine.

Border Death Momument


The crisis we face on the border is a complex one. Vital data for finding and identifying people is scattered throughout the U.S. and Latin America. There is no uniform procedure for handling migrant cases, and policies vary across the region, often leading to a tragic mishandling of migrant remains. Furthermore, in the growing national debate on immigration, the voices and stories of the families most hurt by this tragedy are largely silenced.


Over the past decade, we have partnered with families, forensic scientists and humanitarians to find the missing, identify the dead, and advocate for those who have suffered a loss on the border. We see an important gap in the immigration debate in our country and believe Colibrí is uniquely positioned to address it. Through our programs—Missing Migrant Project, DNA Program, Red de Familiares and Historias y Recuerdos—we work to bring an end to this human rights crisis. The same information that is healing to families has the power to change our border.


Map: Humane Borders, http://www.humaneborders.org/warning-posters/