The PRT has previously reported (April 2020 and Nov. 2021) on Alvaro Enciso’s decade-long work “Where Dreams Die,” in which he places handmade wooden crosses at the sites of migrant deaths in Pima, Santa Cruz and Cochise Counties. Aided by a team that sometimes includes Patagonia volunteers, the placements continue almost every Tuesday. Each cross, Enciso says, “is where someone’s dream has died.” 

Enciso and his team work from a map created by the Tuscon-based non-profit Humane Borders as part of the Arizona OpenGIS Initiative for Deceased Migrants. Using data pertaining to migrants’ deaths compiled by the Pima County Office of the Medical Examiner (OME), Humane Borders places a red dot on the map for each location where a migrant’s remains have been recovered. The data for each red dot includes GPS coordinates, which guide Enciso’s team in siting each cross. The database also includes, when known, the name, sex, age, cause of death, condition of remains, date of reporting, and estimated date of death.

According to Humane Borders, over 3,600 undocumented migrants have died within the Pima County OME jurisdiction since January, 1990. “The information presented is stark and perhaps unsettling. Please use these tools with sensitivity and mindfulness,” Humane Borders states on their website. 

Enciso often posts photos of his cross-planting sites on Facebook, but isn’t much of a social-media promoter. He prefers making art and planting crosses to record-keeping. However, in the last couple of years his cross planting expeditions have sometimes included Alyssa Quintanilla, a documentarian and professor at the U.S. Naval Academy who studies narratives and the stories that travel with language, especially as they influence borderlands perceptions and behaviors. Upon arriving at a red-dot site, she makes a 360-degree interactive video, which she later integrates into an interactive story map at vistasdelafrontera.com. “It’s very much a first draft,” she cautioned. She calls her project a “digital memorial.” Enciso welcomes the collaboration. 

The map shown here uses a satellite view to plot the 96 currently known red-dot locations within our region. A cross symbol is added to the red dots at the 37 sites which have received a cross. 

Migrants choose their routes to avoid detection, so only a few of the red-dot crosses are visible from paved roads. South of Patagonia, one such location is on SR82, on the right shortly past the T4 Ranch. Another is across from the mailboxes at the entrance to Kino Springs’ residences. Two more roadside crosses sit on the east side of North Elgin Road, one across from a windmill about a mile north of Elgin, and the other just south of the entrance to Los Milics Vineyards. 

The most startling local red-dot cross viewing site is the 11 crosses on the north side of SR82. As you leave Sonoita, the row is on the left beyond Hops and Vines, sitting well beyond the guardrail at Milepost 36. It’s the largest group Enciso has placed, marking the location of a van crash in 2009. 

Below the large outlook on SR83, another vehicle crash is memorialized. There, crosses mark four deaths from a 2004 accident.

Three of the more obscure red-dot locations are worth mentioning. The most recently recorded local migrant death was July 8, 2022. It’s along the old railroad right-of-way by Sonoita Creek, and is slated for a cross placement in October.

In early August, 2022, Enciso’s team visited two local sites. The first, for 23-year-old Ramon Mendoza Alcaraz, was very close to the border, a body recovered in 2010. To the north, in the Coronado National Forest near Cox Gulch, the cross-placing spot turned out to be a mesquite thicket. After mentioning the name of the 24-year-old male who’d passed there in 2014, Giovanni Nolasco Rodriguez, Enciso added: “It’s likely we’ll be the only ones seeing this spot.” There was no regret in his tone – he appeared content with that moment.

These two sites from the August trip have an extra layer of meaning – both bodies were repatriated to their countries of origin for proper burial by their families. Medical or legal investigation that makes this connection is rare, and roughly a third of the remains recovered are never identified.