More than 400 people have died trying to cross the border illegally from Mexico in the last 11 months, surpassing previous records.
Of those people, 228 have died crossing through Arizona, outstripping previous annual records even before the US federal fiscal year ends on Sept. 30.
From Texas to California, 415 people have perished trying to enter the US from Mexico -- far higher than last year's total of 330 and surpassing the previous high mark of 383 set in 2000, said Mario Villarreal, a spokesman for US Customs and Border Protection in Washington.
Crackdowns in El Paso, Texas, and San Diego have funneled most migrant traffic along the Mexican border into Arizona over the past several years.
Record numbers of deaths are being recorded in both Border Patrol sectors that cover Arizona and in south Texas, Villarreal said.
In Arizona, nearly half the deaths have been heat-related, Border Patrol spokesmen said.
Some of the increase in numbers reflect a change in the way Border Patrol officials are counting the deceased. In late June, they began including some bodies or remains found by other law enforcement agencies but not previously counted. Even accounting for the change, however, Arizona recorded more deaths so far this year than in all of the last fiscal year, Border Patrol spokesman Luis Garza said.
Garza attributed the upswing in deaths to dramatic and "unprecedented heat" as well as another factor: an eastward shift by smugglers to a more mountainous and treacherous stretch of Arizona desert east of the Baboquivari Mountains and the Tohono O'odham Indian reservation.
"It's here and it's real, and hopefully people will be able to understand the need, that our border's broken," said the Reverend Robin Hoover, founder of Tucson-based Humane Borders, an organization that places water in desert areas used heavily by illegal immigrants.
"We've been pointing to the problems for so long along the border that our arms are tired," Hoover said.
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