Webb County Medical Examiner sees an increase in immigrant deaths

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LAREDO, TX (KGNS) - Crossing the U.S. Mexico border remains illegal and it can also have a deadly consequence.

Officials say there's been an increase in deaths from those attempting to cross the border and now the Webb County Medical Examiner's Office is at maximum capacity.

Medical Examiner, Dr. Corrine Stern, says there's been an increase in the number of people paying the ultimate price for illegally crossing the U.S. Mexico border.

Dr. Stern says they have seen a lot more border crossing deaths, so we have quickly run out of space this year.

The medical examiner goes on to say the recent heatwave we experienced had a deadly result.

Dr. Stern says, "This is the largest number I've seen in such a short period of time. In the last nine days, we've had 14 border crossing deaths that have come through this office. Just this weekend, we've had a recovery in south Webb County, Saturday night a female. Sunday night we recovered a 16-year-old who was crossing with his father and unfortunately did not survive."

The number of cases similar to those mentioned are giving a strain to the department's capacity.

Dr. Stern says, “We have portable morgue storage outside. We're full, all of our coolers are full right now. We can make more space by moving gurneys and using floor space as opposed to using table space. That's one of the ways we can get around this right now."

During an over the phone interview a few weeks ago, commissioner for precinct three, John Galo, mentioned there's a solution already in the works.

Galo says they have awarded a contract to do an expansion.

Although by law, cremation is possible, the commissioner said, not doing so allows loved ones to identify the bodies and see them one last time.

Galo says "She tries to maintain the body and everything as long as possible to allow the people that come from other countries to identify the remains and have closure"

Something that plays a big part in how long the bodies are stored.

Dr. Sterm says, "If we get them identified through tattoos, fingerprints, dental. We'll usually receive the paperwork in about a week, and we can release them from here. It's just the ones that we're pending DNA that stay here the longest."

DNA can usually take up to 8 months, but that's after locating relatives to compare DNA. Most of the times, their families live in hard to reach areas.

With temperatures continuing to rise, Dr. Stern stresses the dangers of crossing at this time.

The estimated storage capacity at the Medical Examiner's Office is 100.

Of the 14 bodies recovered last week, 13 were a result of dehydration.
The majority of those bodies were Mexican nationals.

Dr. Stern says a recent meeting with different national representatives has helped speed the process of repatriation of the deceased.