Friday, May 06, 2016

Border postmortem: What dead migrants tell us

...Since 2001, staff in Pima County, Ariz., alone, have studied the remains of more than 2,300 confirmed or suspected border crossers, says Bruce Anderson of the county’s Office of the Medical Examiner. A similar number of remains was recovered in Texas over the same time period, according to Border Patrol statistics. The cause of death for about half can't be determined, and most of the rest died of heat or cold. Many migrants are found with false IDs or none at all, so scientists often rely on DNA to identify aged remains. The man with the deformed arm, for instance, was successfully identified via DNA and his remains returned to his home country. Scientists decline to reveal more details to protect his family’s privacy. Data from the remains also yield surprising findings about those who risk their lives to reach the United States. Migrants found in Texas are distinct from those found in Arizona, says Kate Spradley of Texas State University: Those found in Texas are “more similar to Americans.” Some of the Texas migrants had fancy dental work, such as bridges and high-quality fillings. Those studied by researchers were generally free from severe cases of bone deformities tied to childhood malnutrition. Their remains suggest they’re “fleeing violence,” Spradley says, not “extreme poverty.” That’s in keeping with the origins of Texas migrants, who tend to come from Central America, where several countries suffer from high murder rates. A very different picture emerges of suspected migrants found further west. When Beatrice and his colleague Angela Soler, now of New York City’s Office of Chief Medical Examiner, studied the remains of 200 people found in Pima County, they found rates of bone deformity that were “kind of unbelievable,” Beatrice says. The researchers found the presumed migrants had suffered from childhood malnutrition and other ills at proportions seen in medieval times. “We shouldn’t be seeing this in a modern group of people,” Beatrice says. Unlike the Texas migrants, the Arizona dead whose identities are learned come mostly from Mexico...more

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