The family of undocumented immigrant Idelfonso Martinez Sanchez, who died in the Arizona desert trying to cross into the United States after being deported, may sue the U.S. Border Patrol because they consider that the agents' long delayed search for him contributed to the tragedy.

Martinez Sanchez, 39, had lived in the city of Vista, north of San Diego, for more than 20 years, and before his fatal attempt to return to the United States, he had tried unsuccessfully to reenter from Tijuana.

One of his companions when detained by the Border Patrol told the agents that they had left Martinez behind in the Arizona desert, but they didn't begin searching for him until five days later.

"They could have saved him. They let him die worse than an animal - because we're Mexicans and we have no documents they treat us the worst way," Juana Garcia, widow of the deceased immigrant, told Efe Friday.

Garcia is also an undocumented immigrant. The couple has five children between ages five and 19.

"We'll see what happens with the lawsuit. What they did is not right. I don't work and they left me and my kids without our source of income. What we want is for justice to be done," Garcia said.

The funeral service was held Thursday afternoon with the casket closed, because of the advanced state of decomposition, at the Church of St. Francis of Assisi in the town of Vista, attended by close to 350 mourners.

The wife said that Martinez Sanchez's body was found on the Tohono O'odham Indian reservation, one of the routes most used by immigrants crossing the desert without documents and where they face scorching temperatures above 100 F.

According to Garcia, Martinez had gone to buy milk at a store in Vista on March 1 when a friend asked him to take charge of the business because he had an emergency.

It was then that a cop who had gone to the store to deliver a letter asked Martinez for identification, and when the immigrant handed over his Mexican ID card, the policeman called the Border Patrol.

"The police officier did it out of pure racism, seeing that he looked Mexican. He had previously gone to other stores without asking anyone to identify themselves," Juana Garcia said.

After being deported, his last attempt to cross through Arizona began April 20, when he promised a people smuggler close to $3,000 to help him get back into the United States, but after a day of trudging through the desert he felt ill.

One companion on the trip, Isaac Jimenez Hernandez, tried to help him, but despite his plea the people smuggler refused to stop the march, so he took a cell phone from Martinez's pocket but had to walk another two hours before he could call 911, according to Martinez's wife.

When the Border Patrol arrived, they arrested Jimenez Hernandez, who offered to take them to where Martinez was, but the agents refused, and it wasn't until Jimenez Hernandez was freed in Mexicali two days later that he could Martinez's family, who in turn called the Border Patrol.

Finally, at the insistence of the family and days after Jimenez was released in Mexico, the Border Patrol accepted Jimenez's offer to help them find the body, which they did on April 26, when they found it in an advanced state of decomposition. EFE