A New Report Shows Skyrocketing Deaths in El Paso, New Mexico Border Region

As safe corridors for migration disappear, more people risk their lives crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. And more people die. A new report by the nonprofit No More Deaths, along with a searchable map and database, documents the increasing number of migrant deaths at the border in New Mexico and far West Texas. Until now, not much research has been done on the deaths of people migrating through this section of the border. The project was led by Bryce, a No More Deaths volunteer (who asked that we not use his last name because the Far Right has recently been targeting the group). He, along with several others, have created the most comprehensive database to date of deaths in the Border Patrol’s El Paso Sector, which includes New Mexico and two counties in Texas, El Paso and Hudspeth. The report covers 15 years, from 2008 to 2023, and it shows many disturbing trends, including the acceleration of deaths that has accompanied “prevention through deterrence,” the U.S. government’s strategy implemented in the 1990s to push migrants into more remote, dangerous crossings. That strategy is now morphing into something all the more tragic as people, increasingly women and children, are barred from accessing asylum and are dying at the doorstep of American cities and towns. In this Q&A, Bryce talks about documenting these deaths, and the discoveries that both shocked and angered him in creating this new report.

Why did you study this particular part of the border in New Mexico and far West Texas?

A couple of years ago, a few of us started getting interested in what’s happening in New Mexico, and whether there’s any need for humanitarian aid out there, just because we hadn’t really heard anything but assumed there must be something happening out there. Quickly, we noticed that there was not much data in general about the area. So I started doing public records requests. And pretty quickly, just with the first batch of data, we got about 20 deaths for 2022. We went to some of those locations to see if we’d see trails. And while we were checking out some of these locations, we found human remains right across the street from a cemetery and about 50 feet from a main road in Sunland Park [New Mexico]. It was not a remote place. It was right in town. So we started looking at the Sunland Park Fire Department’s social media page, and quickly realized that there was a lot happening and quickly. And then 2023 ended up being this record deadly year for the area.

Two findings that really stand out to me from your report are the number of women who have died, and how increasingly people are dying within city limits and no longer just in remote areas that are hard to access. I mean, you found a person in the middle of Sunland Park. What’s going on, do you think?

The dynamics of migration are complex. But one thing that seems pretty clear is that the asylum policies in the last few years have led to an increase in some of these deaths, just from people trying to get asylum and being prevented either by metering or by turnbacks. And then feeling they have no choice but to cross through the desert. A lot of people who are crossing are older, they’re women, they’re people with health problems. The demographics, we found, were much different in the El Paso sector than in southern Arizona, with people being older and more than 50 percent of the deaths in 2023 being of women, which is unusual.