The Missing Migrant Project (MMP) released new data indicating that 1,238 migrant deaths and disappearances have been recorded for the Americas in 2021, the most since the project was started in 2014 by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) of the United Nations.
The most casualties occurred at the US-Mexico border: 728 migrant deaths and disappearances, a 53 percent jump from 2020.
The danger at the US-Mexico border is highlighted by the recent discovery of 53 bodies in an abandoned tractor-trailer in San Antonio, Texas. That brought the total number of deaths so far in 2022 to 493, a UN report said.
“The number of deaths on the United States-Mexico border last year is significantly higher than in any year prior, even before COVID-19,” said Edwin Viales, author of the IOM report on migrants in the Americas in 2021. “Yet, this number remains an undercount due to the diverse challenges for data collection.”
Because it is daunting to collect data on migrant deaths in the region and due to the lack of official sources of information, all MMP figures should be considered an undercount, the report said.
The data show that the largest demographic on migrant deaths in the Americas is unidentified people — nearly 500 individuals died on migratory routes in 2021 and remain unidentified.
Of those who have been identified, Mexicans make up the largest proportion (154 individuals), followed by Guatemalans (129 individuals) and Venezuelans (94 individuals), the report stated.
Many migrants had experienced hardships before meeting a tragic end. The report illustrated such horror by describing one migrant’s fate:
“Arnaldo (a pseudonym used to protect the identity of the deceased) was a 42-year-old Haitian man. The last photograph taken of him showed him smiling. After the earthquake in Haiti in 2010, he decided to look for a better future abroad. He lived in Brazil and then in Chile, until 2020 when he lost his job due to the restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic. He decided to go to the United States. The few options for regular migration forced him to make the arduous overland crossing through the Darien Gap from which he would never emerge. Arnaldo died in August 2021 along with other Haitian migrants, swept away by a river in the jungle.”
These deaths and disappearances are caused by the lack of options for safe and regular mobility, which increases the likelihood of migrants choosing irregular migration pathways that put their lives at risk, according to the report. It calls for the countries to save migrant lives and prevent further deaths and disappearances.
Immigrant advocates have argued that the increasing death at US-Mexico border is the result of pandemic-related policies. Title 42, a World War II-era health policy, was restored by the Trump administration during the coronavirus pandemic and is still in place. Title 42 allows border agents to turn away migrants at the border without being processed, resulting in repeated attempts.
The “Remain in Mexico” policy effectively closed the border to the vast majority of migrants and asylum seekers and required them to stay in Mexico, where more than 8,000 refugees had been attacked or kidnapped by the end of 2021, according to Human Rights First.
The US Supreme Court ruled last week that the policy can be ended, but it will stay in place for a few more weeks, according to the Department of Homeland Security.
“We need to wait until the Supreme Court’s decision is actually communicated to the lower court, to the federal District Court and the Northern District of Texas, and, once that occurs, the District Court should lift its injunction that is preventing us from ending the program,” Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said Sunday on ABC and CBS news shows.
More than 400 miles of steel wall of 20 to 30 feet high erected during the Trump administration has also elevated the danger of border crossing. More migrants are reported to have fallen to serious injuries or death when they attempted to get over the wall.