Pheonix Deaths among migrants illegally entering the United States dropped slightly during the past fiscal year, according to the most recent Border Patrol statistics.
Between Oct. 1, 2005 and Sept. 15, 426 people died while illegally crossing the 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico border. That compares with the 446 deaths during the same period the previous year.
A final count including a tally from Sept. 15 to Oct. 1 will be released this month.
Most of the deaths occurred in Arizona, the busiest illegal entry point on the border and typically the deadliest because of the punishing desert migrants must cross.
But the state was also the only border area to show an overall decline to 199 deaths so far this fiscal year from 258 in the 2005.
Border Patrol sectors covering Texas and New Mexico showed an increase to 175 deaths during the 2006 fiscal year from 140 in the 2005.
And sectors covering California's part of the border showed a slight increase to 52 from 48.
In Arizona, the Border Patrol attributed the decline in part to an increased federal presence on the border that deters some people from crossing and that put more agents in position to rescue migrants.
An official also cited a wetter summer that brought with it lower temperatures.
"We keep hammering the point about the dangers of the desert," said agent Jesus Rodriguez, a Border Patrol spokesman in Tucson. "We try to just hammer it home. It's not a picnic to walk in the desert."
Rodriguez said many of the deaths in the patrol's Tucson sector, which covers most of the Arizona-Mexico border, were attributed to the heat.
The areas where most migrants cross in Arizona typically have temperatures in the triple digits during parts of the spring and all summer. Rodriguez said the ground temperature can hit around 140 degrees.
Other causes of death included drowning, exposure to the cold and car wrecks. In early August, a suspected smuggler rolled his vehicle in Arizona, killing 10 illegal immigrants and an unborn child.
The Rev. Robin Hoover of the group Humane Borders, which sets out water in the Arizona desert to help illegal immigrants in distress, said the wet summer was the primary reason deaths were down in the state.