YUMA, Ariz. -- Fourteen immigrants who died in the Arizona desert this week after illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexican border are just the latest victims of a trek that promises prosperity but often ends in tragedy.
The Arizona desert has been a popular crossing point for illegal immigrants since the mid-1990s as crackdowns in California and Texas forced them to brave the region's scorching temperatures and desolate landscape in search of a better life in America.
"Unfortunately, people's lives are so desperate that they won't stop coming -- they'll just keep trying," said Rick Ufford-Chase of BorderLinks, a Tucson-based public-awareness group. "It's simply not possible to carry enough water across the desert."
The immigrants died after smugglers abandoned them last weekend with little food and water in temperatures that reached 115 degrees.
The smugglers left them in the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge, telling them they need only walk a few hours to reach a highway. The highway was more than 50 miles away.
Only 12 were still alive when the Border Patrol discovered them Wednesday and Thursday. The survivors, many from the Mexican state of Veracruz, were hospitalized in Yuma with severe dehydration and related kidney damage. One was missing.
The victims are among 48 immigrants who have died trying to cross the Arizona desert since last fall. It was believed to be the deadliest attempt to cross the U.S.-Mexico border since 1987, when 18 Mexican men died in a locked railroad boxcar near Sierra Blanca, Texas.
Johnny Williams, a regional director for the Immigration and Naturalization Service, placed much of the blame on smugglers who charge people hundreds of dollars for passage into the United States.
"The people from Veracruz didn't decide themselves to come to this cauldron," Williams said. "These smugglers convince people that they know the way to go.
"In this particular case, they told the people it would only take a couple of hours. A few hours later it turns into a fight to their death."
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