While the United States and the rest of the world focused on the chaotic evacuations in Afghanistan, the U.S.-Mexico border is still being flooded with illegal immigrants trying to cross into the country. Border agents have been swamped by escalating numbers of migrants, rescuing those in distress and collecting those who have perished along the way. Since President Joe Biden took his mighty quill and obliterated the security measures former President Donald Trump had in place, the death toll of aliens has grown to numbers not seen since 2005, the worst year on record.
Ronald Vitiello, a former chief of the Border Patrol, said the situation is logical. “It’s all based on the volume,” he explained:
“We’ve gone to unprecedented heights in attempted entries. There are more people dying on the way, there are more people dying at the border, there’s more risk to the people coming.”
In the past ten months, there have been 383 deaths of those trying to sneak into the United States. This number (through July) is more than the 253 recorded deaths for the entirety of 2020 and the 300 in 2019. August and September will likely see a lot more since those two months count for between 22% and 30% for the entire year. At this rate, the record set in 2005, with 492 deaths, is on track to be broken.
In the past, deaths used to happen more along the nine sectors, with Laredo, Rio Grande, and Tucson seeing the most. But this year, all of the sectors have seen double-digit death tolls, and Del Rio, which used to be in the middle, now has one of the highest numbers, with 71 recorded through July.
The trek to the U.S. border is fraught with danger. Many immigrants have died from drowning, exposure, illness, and even from falling off the border wall. Becoming more common are migrants smuggled in by vehicles being found dead inside. Here are just a few recent incidents:
Two smugglers were transporting 14 illegal immigrants, who had paid between $12,000 and $15,000 to be taken to America, when they told everyone to get rid of their lifejackets, jump overboard, and swim to shore. According to court documents, they had overloaded the boat, which caused it to stall while out in open water. They were stranded overnight without enough food and water. After getting the boat going the next morning, they made it within 80 yards of La Jolla when they told everyone to get out, without checking to see if all could swim. San Diego lifeguards were able to save some, others were detained by Border Patrol agents after making it ashore, but at least one man drowned.
Smuggling in Vehicles
Border agents and Texas Department of Public Safety troopers chased a vehicle carrying illegal immigrants in Falfurrias that had fled a traffic stop. The pursuit lasted for 44 miles, with officers trying to spike the pickup truck’s tires – unsuccessfully. They were finally able to force the truck to stop and found an unresponsive Mexican man in the back seat. After 40 minutes of CPR, while waiting for emergency medical services to arrive, the alien was pronounced dead.
Another chase led Texas troopers on a 50-mile run that ended when the Dodge Ram carrying illegal immigrants collided head-on with a Ford F-150, killing eight migrants.
Extreme heat can be deadly, especially in the deserts of Arizona and Texas. In just one week, ten bodies were found near remote ranch lands in the Lone Star State. Migrants who get sick on rafts crossing the Rio Grande or deserts are often left behind. “Too many of [the smugglers], it’s a commodity,” Vitiello explained. “The more people you go, the faster you go, the less care and attention you pay to people that get sick along the way.”
Another Border Patrol agent likened the problem to a matter of economics. Migrants pay, at least a portion, upfront to the smugglers, unlike drugs, where the product has to be sold before they can make any money. As The Washington Times reported, “So even if they [migrants] still owe a couple thousand on the back end, the smugglers have already made thousands per person, and cutting them loose isn’t as much of a hit as abandoning a drug load.”
While border agents and personnel have their hands full with the unprecedented surge of illegal immigrants, the COVID pandemic, and rescuing migrants, activists claim the agents have “systematically ignore[d] and mishandle[d]” search and rescues, even though 2021 has already set a record on the number of saves made. Through July, there were 10,528 rescues made compared to 5,333 recorded for all of 2020. The terrain makes it difficult in many places, and agents have ridden out on horses, such as when they retrieved eight migrants who were lost, without water, near Mexicali. In winter, they have to trek in snowstorms to save migrants caught on mountaintops. “No one does more to save lives on the border than the Border Patrol,” Vitiello argued.
But the sheer number of people coming across makes it harder to send out search-and-rescue parties. Biden’s lax policy on keeping the border secure has encouraged hundreds of thousands of migrants to try to make it to the United States. Smugglers are overloading boats, trucks, and whatever “shipping” vehicle they can find, their eyes on the money and not the lives they are transporting. Add in the virus causing a pandemic across the world, and it is no wonder migrant deaths are escalating.
Read more from Kelli Ballard.