The jobs that lure Mexican workers to the United States are killing them in a growing epidemic that is now claiming a victim a day, according to an Associated Press investigation.

Though Mexicans often take the most hazardous jobs, they are more likely than others to be killed even when doing similarly risky work.

The death rates are greatest in several Western and Southern states, where a Mexican worker is four times more likely to die than the average U.S.-born worker. In Arizona, the annual Mexican worker death toll has been increasing, but because of the large Mexican-born population their death rates are lower than most other states, though the rates are still well above the average for U.S.-born workers.

For the first study of its kind of Mexican worker deaths in the United States, the AP talked with scores of workers, employers, advocates and government officials and analyzed years of federal safety and population statistics.

Among the findings:

  • Mexican death rates are rising even as the U.S. workplace grows safer overall. In the mid-1990s, Mexicans were about 30 percent more likely to die than native-born workers; now they are about 80 percent more likely.

  • Deaths among Mexicans increased faster than their population in the U.S. Between 1996 and 2002, as the number of Mexican workers grew by about half, from 4 million to 6 million, the number of deaths rose by about two-thirds, from 241 to 387. Deaths peaked at 420 in 2001.

  • Though their odds of dying in the Southeast and parts of the West are far greater than the U.S. average, fatalities occur everywhere: Mexicans died cutting North Carolina tobacco and Nebraska beef, felling trees in Colorado and welding a balcony in Florida.

  • Mexicans are nearly twice as likely as the rest of the immigrant population to die at work.

    Public safety officials and workers themselves say Mexicans are hired to work cheap, and the fewer questions the better. They may be thrown into jobs without training or safety equipment, and their objections may be silent if they speak no English. Those here illegally, fearful of attracting attention, can be reluctant to complain. And their work culture and Third World safety expectations don't discourage extra risk-taking.