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Fatal Footsteps: Murder of Undocumented Border Crossers in Maricopa County, Arizona

NCJ Number
Journal of Forensic Sciences Volume: 53 Issue: 1 Dated: January 2008 Pages: 41-45
Laura C. Fulginiti Ph.D.
Date Published
January 2008
5 pages
This paper presents nine recent cases of the murders of undocumented border crossers in Maricopa County, AZ, that illustrate the trend in human smugglers' ("coyotes") attempts to extort additional money from families of border crossers by holding them hostage after they have crossed into the United States, which in many cases has involved completion of the threat to kill the hostages.
Rival gangs are also murdering one another as they compete for human cargo. In all of the cases presented, the victims were bound, shot (stabbed in one instance), and dumped in a remote desert area. All of the victims were linked to murder for extortion by the "coyotes" or rival gang members. This increase in the killings of undocumented migrants places a different kind of burden on law enforcement investigators and the medical examiner. The autopsies take longer, and the investigations are more complex, often leading back to the victim's country of origin. Typically, the most difficult part of the investigation is the identification of the victims and notification of next of kin. If these tasks are successfully completed, the body is returned and the case is closed. In case of homicide, however, identification of the decedent is only the first step in attempting to resolve the case. The trend in such homicides has led to the formation of a special group called Operation ICE Storm in September 2004. This group is responsible for reducing crime associated with human smuggling. The number of homicides, robberies, aggravated assaults, and immigrant kidnappings have declined steadily since the initiation of Operation ICE Storm. The monetary incentives driving human smuggling, however, are too strong for it to be slowed significantly. 9 figures and 10 references