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CBP Releases Arizona’s Medical Examiner Testimonial

Release Date: 
August 23, 2016

Forensic Expert in Charge of identifying Migrants Human Remains

WASHINGTON—U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) released a testimonial video of a forensic expert in charge of identifying hundreds of anonymous migrant’s human remains found in the Arizona desert near the United States/Mexico border.

The new video, translated into Spanish language, features Dr. Gregory Hess Pima County Chief Medical Examiner in Tucson, Arizona. He leads the daunting and challenging task of positively identifying hundreds of anonymous dead bodies of men, women and children. Many are from Central America.

“Our focus at the Medical Examiner’s Office is identifying remains of people that we have found. We still have about 800 to 850 that are unidentified,” says the doctor who analyzes bodies and remains in varying stages of decomposition.

In the refrigerated facility the remains are stacked on industrial shelves inside plastic body bags with John or Jane Doe written on white tags. “Most of the remains that we call undetermined are likely people that have died from exposure…who may not have water available to use,” says Dr. Hess. “So if something goes wrong, with whatever plan he may have had… then the problems may result on their death. It’s risky… most people think it is not going to happen to them.”

“The Arizona desert is a deadly trap. Migrants get easily disoriented and after long days of walking with no water or food, they succumb to unforgiving extreme temperatures. Migrants are either abandoned or tricked by human smugglers. Unfortunately the morgue is the place where their dreams end,” said Jaime Ruiz,  CBP Testimonials national spokesperson.

In coordination with U.S. Department of State (DOS), the new video is part of a Public Service Announcement (PSA) Testimonial series launched on May 31, and Teenage Testimonial Released on August 8. It is a continuation of several long ranging Spanish language public awareness campaigns CBP has launched over the last decade.

The video was produced by Joint Task Force West (JTF-W) Arizona Corridor.  JTF-W is an innovative U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) interagency integrated model that unifies all DHS border security components in the Southwest Border.

In addition to being distributed to key Spanish language news media in the United States, the testimonials are released in Central America via U.S. embassies in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. The PSA testimonial series is an interagency effort to raise awareness of the atrocities, abuses, extortion and natural hazards migrants encounter in their journey.



  • Teenage Testimonial Released on August 8
  • Testimonial Series launched on May 31
Last modified: 
February 3, 2021