FALFURRIAS, Texas (AP) - The number of undocumented immigrants who died while trying to make it around an inland checkpoint in South Texas this year has surged, even though apprehensions of undocumented immigrants along the southwest border have fallen in recent years.
By late December the remains of 127 people - nearly double the previous year - had been found on ranchland in Brooks County surrounding the Border Patrol's Falfurrias checkpoint, which is about an hour's drive north of the U.S.-Mexico border.
The county's top elected official, Judge Raul Ramirez, told the San Antonio Express-News that the county recently ran out of space for "John Doe" graves at its Sacred Heart Cemetery.
"When you have 127 people die in your county in one year, it's too much," Ramirez said. "One body would be too much."
He said costs of dealing with illegal immigration and the unidentified dead, including mortician fees and autopsies, amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The rise comes in spite of greater capabilities to pinpoint 911 calls in the vast scrubland and the Border Patrol's placement of emergency beacons where immigrants can signal for help.
Two Border Patrol checkpoints sit on the two main highways leading north from the Rio Grande Valley. Both are surrounded by vast ranches where immigrants trying to circumvent the Border Patrol hike for days with little water or food.
Brooks County rancher Presnall Cage, 67, said the remains of 16 people have been found on his 43,000-acre ranch this year, more than ever.
"It's just been horrible," he said. "And there would have been a lot more deaths if the county didn't have a locator for 911 calls. Everyone has a cellphone.
"They are coming across as bad as they ever have. People say it's slowed down, but it doesn't seem that way to me."
Brooks County chief sheriff's deputy Benny Martinez said they've already had between 250 and 300 rescues this year. "It's way more than in the past," he said.
One day in December, reporters accompanying Border Patrol agents on calls in Brooks County witnessed the apprehension of a large group of immigrants walking through the brush.
Among them were eight women and three children younger than 12, including an 11-year-old girl from Honduras who was traveling alone.
Humberto Martinez Vasquez Guzman, 18, from Guatemala, traveled with his wife from their town near the Mexico border hoping to reach relatives in Kentucky. He said they each paid $6,500 to smugglers but were abandoned in South Texas. They had been walking for three days in the brush without food, he said.
The Border Patrol's Rio Grande Valley sector, which includes Brooks County, saw a sharp rise in the apprehension of Central American immigrants in fiscal 2012.
The agency has not released its complete apprehension figures for the past fiscal year, but for the 10-month period ending in July, the sector apprehended 60 percent more immigrants than in the same period a year earlier, according to Border Patrol spokesman Enrique Mendiola.