EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — The remains of at least 300 unidentified migrants were found along the Southwest U.S. border in 2019, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

CBP reports that the number of migrants seeking entry into the U.S. has decreased because of the COVID-19 pandemic but that the risks remain to those making the treacherous journey. The majority of border-crosser deaths occur due to dehydration or starvation among 50- to 89-year-olds. 

“Every death of an undocumented person in the deserts of my county is a human rights tragedy,” Pima County Sheriff Mark Napier said in a news release. “In 2020, we are on pace to have a record number of recoveries, each one being someone’s brother, father, son, mother. My department expends significant resources doing these recoveries. Each must be treated as a crime scene in often very remote areas.”

In 2020, CBP has seen a decrease in undocumented border crossers of about 53 percent, compared to 2019. 

Human smuggling is a dangerous issue across the Southwest border that can quickly turn fatal. 

CBP Acting Commissioner Mark Morgan says that migrants are often stuffed into stash houses or trailers after being misled by human smugglers.

“Smuggling networks are exploiting, abusing and profiting off of misinformed individuals and families,” said Morgan in a statement provided to KTSM 9 News.

“Human smugglers aren’t service providers. They are career criminals involved in other dangerous criminal activities,” he continued. 

The 53-percent decrease in undocumented border crossings this year underscores measures taken by the federal government to restrict immigration in response to COVID-19.

On March 24, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced its decision to temporarily restrict travel from Mexico into U.S. ports of entry, which has significantly reduced border crossing traffic for regions like El Paso. 

CBP officials stress the dangers associated with undocumented border crossings.

“We must redouble our efforts to secure our border to dissuade people from engaging in the dangerous and too often fatal activity of coming into our country without proper documentation,” said Napier.