Tucson – A religious ceremony was held here to pay tribute to the hundreds of undocumented and unidentified immigrants who have died in the Arizona desert.
Religious leaders and more than 100 people gathered on Tuesday evening at the Pima County municipal cemetery at the spot where numbered boxes containing the ashes of indigents and unidentified migrants are found.
"We believe that this is a most symbolic place, which we've chosen to recall and celebrate the lives of the immigrants, who nobody will celebrate any more because they are undocumented, they have no family here in the United States and we don't even know the names or places of origin of many of them, Leo Guardado, social ministry director at Tucson's Most Holy Trinity Catholic Church, told Efe.
The Arizona Human Rights Coalition, using data from the Pima County medical examiner's office, says 183 undocumented migrants perished in the Arizona desert during the 2011 fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30.
Sixty percent of those immigrants have never been identified, according to the coalition.
Over the last 10 years, the coalition has tallied the deaths of 2,287 undocumented migrants along the Arizona border.
The unidentified bodies are cremated and the ashes placed in urns in the Pima County cemetery.
Before a body may be cremated, medical examiners create a file and keep a fragment of bone from the deceased to be able to perform a DNA test to verify his or her identity if in the future somebody investigates the matter.
"We don't know exactly how many undocumented people are in this spot. Here, indigents who have no homes or family and who are also brought to this cemetery are buried," said Guardado, who was only 9 years old when his mother brought him to the United States from El Salvador, then embroiled in a civil war.
"Often it's not a body that is cremated. Sometimes it's just a bone or fragments because that's the only thing that is found in the desert," he said.
The ceremony coincided with the celebration of the Day of the Dead, a Mexican festival that is also held in other countries, including the United States, in which the members of the family who have died are recalled with altars, food, fruit, sweets, flowers and candles.
One of the people who attended the ceremony was Tucson resident Vicki Berg.
"My heart breaks when I think about so many people who have died on the border, about the need they have to risk their lives," she told Efe.
She said that she and other people at the ceremony were particularly concerned about the children and women, and so they would like the federal government to launch a program that would permit fathers and spouses to cross the border legally, work for a season and return.