A photo of a young woman with her child in the missing persons file at the Brooks County Sheriff’s Office. (Hannah Rappleye for NBC News )

Deadly crossing: Death toll rises among those desperate for the American Dream

MISSION, Texas — In the freezer of a small funeral home nearly 13 miles from the Texas-Mexico border, 22 bodies are stacked on plywood shelves, one on top of the other.

The bodies wrapped in white sheets have names, families and official countries of origin — Honduras, El Salvador, Mexico, sometimes China or Pakistan. The bodies in black shrouds are the remains of the nameless and unclaimed, waiting to be identified.

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For the past few years, the family-owned Elizondo Mortuary and Cremation Service in Mission, Texas, has been taking in the remains of undocumented immigrants found dead in nearby counties after crossing the border from Mexico. This year, however, they had to build an extra freezer. It’s become difficult to keep up with the rising tide of dead coming to them from across the Rio Grande Valley.

Crossing the U.S.-Mexico border illegally has always been dangerous, but this year heat and drought have made the journey particularly deadly. According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, this part of the border has seen a sharp rise in both rescues and deaths of people crossing the border illegally. So far in 2012, agents have rescued more than 310 people, and found nearly 150 dead in the Rio Grande Valley — an increase of more than 200 percent over the last fiscal year.

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