WASHINGTON—The number of people who died trying to illegally cross the U.S.-Mexico border last year rose to 417 -- the first increase in four years -- despite declines in apprehensions, according to an advocacy group.
The number of deaths hit a peak of 492 in 2005, but had fallen every year since then to a low of 390 in 2008, the National Foundation for American Policy said Thursday, citing U.S. Border Patrol statistics.
Meanwhile, apprehensions of illegal immigrants trying to cross the southern border fell to 538,000 last year, down from 705,022 the previous year. Apprehensions peaked at 1.17 million in 2005, according to the foundation, which supports increasing visas for people to legally come to the U.S.
A lack of U.S. jobs and tighter enforcement are thought to be reasons for the steady drops in apprehensions.
Last October, the Border Patrol had reported 378 deaths for 11 months of fiscal year 2009 and warned the final number for the full year was likely to be higher.
Fortification of the nearly 2,000-mile border has forced migrants to enter the U.S. at areas with more difficult terrain, making crossing the border illegally more deadly. Men, women and children are among the dead each year.
Stuart Anderson, the foundation's executive director, said the deaths reflect flawed enforcement policies that don't provide enough opportunity for migrants to enter the country legally.
Anderson was uncertain whether the increase is related to escalating drug-related violence in Mexico. The Border Patrol was analyzing its own data to determine whether drug violence had an affect on the numbers.
The Border Patrol regularly rescues migrants who are felled by searing heat; swept up in river waters that serve as the international border; perish in attacks by gangs or wildlife, or other scenarios.
The Border Patrol rescued 1,277 people near the Southwestern border last year, the foundation reported.