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Death At The Border: Threat Of Trump's Wall Intensifies Search For Dying Migrants

December 13, 2016 1:18 p.m.

Death At The Border: Threat Of Trump's Wall Intensifies Search For Dying Migrants


Gregory Hess, chief medical examiner, Pima County Office of the Medical Examiner

Related Story: Death At The Border: Threat Of Trump's Wall Intensifies Search For Dying Migrants


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

A very disturbing story. As we heard, we're not sure that the body recovered by Eagles in the desert was the person they were looking for. There was an ID belonging to. We have a Gregory Hess whose office is how to identify more bodies of people trying to cross the border than any other jurisdiction in this country. Mr. Hess, thank you for joining us. So tell us, where are you in the process of identifying the body they found in the story?
There was a some card from a cellular phone fans with the remains. The phone itself was not found. We were able to pull some numbers from that card that corresponded to Guatemala numbers. Those numbers were given to the Guatemala Council at who called those numbers and they did contact a family that was missing a loved one. Circumstantially they believe the person that they are missing could be the remains that we found. And so now we are doing a comparison of DNA between the remains that we found to the family reference sample DNA for the family members in Guatemala.
Even of the body does have an ID on it, that doesn't necessarily mean that you have solved the question.
That is correct. People travel with false identifications. It might be their name but a different picture or the picture but the wrong name. It could be an identification they have for another person and they weren't using it really as false identification. And identification is a place to start. It could represent the person that we have to we need to prove it one way or another.
This is not an uncommon circumstance for your office. You are frequently confronted with identify the bodies of migrants crossing the border. Tell us how many?
We have examined the remains about -- of about 2500 people we believed to be migrants since 2001. We average about 170 per year between 2000 We average about 170 per year between 2003 2015. In 2016, we have received about 142 remains.
Why is it your office has the largest number of bodies of migrants crossing the border quick
It is a matter of people changing patterns in response to enforcement. When people just to cross into the United States illegally from Mexico back in the 1980s and the early 1990s, they would cross near major population areas. Tijuana and San Diego and things like that. There wasn't a lot of determined there and there was not a lot of Fencing. Border patrol did make it much more difficult to cross in the major population areas with the intent to decrease the number of crossings. But it did not necessarily work out that way. People just moved to last patrolled areas and more remote areas including southern Arizona.
Are you concerned about plans to extend the wall?
I have no idea.
That is an unknown. Talk a bit about how many of the bodies that your office receive are actually able to be identified.
We have identified about 65% of the total remains that we have received. About 1500 or 1600 people. We still have 800 and 900 individuals that are unidentified. It doesn't necessarily mean the remains are still here. We can keep them indefinitely. If we have finish with our examination and it doesn't look like we have any good leads on an identity, those people will be interred in the County cemetery. They are not loss. If they are identified some day, we can return those remains to family members.
What are the challenges of identifying these bodies?
There's not a great system to do that. You are dealing with people that you believe to be foreign nationals. There are multiple different countries. And dealing with consulates and people that may not be in the United States or speak the language, try to find missing person report is for those people, there is no databases that exist in the cover all of these eventualities. Decomposition of remains. There are a lot of different challenges in terms of trying to identify this group of people.
Yours is a very hard job but a very important one. Is a rainy thing the families are people can do to make your job easier quick
If people are looking for missing loved ones, that will increase the odds that they will be found. There are Facebook sites that help with this. Trying to submit sample DNA to various databases, various humanitarian groups, local governments in the country that they come from that could help on the identification process. Just looking is helpful. Some families haven't either heard from people in a long time where there's simply not looking in that decreases the odds of identifying who they are
Thank you for joining us