Rescue beacons help locate immigrants in distress

U.S. Border Patrol has 6 in Brooks County due to high death rate

BROOKS COUNTY, Texas – Immigrants trudging across the unforgiving sandy terrain of Brooks County may not believe their eyes when they encounter a tall, antenna-looking structure with a blue light on top.

Since 2008, U.S. Border Patrol has set up six rescue beacons in Brooks County because of its desert-like conditions and high rate of immigrant deaths.

"Whether that person is here legally or illegally in the country, it's still our job to get that person to safety," said Rosalinda Huey, Border Patrol spokeswoman for the Rio Grande Valley sector. "They still have human rights, so we need to protect that."

She also said agents currently are putting up similar signage on fences, gates, pipelines or anywhere else where they might be needed.

Huey said Border Patrol has helped rescue 120 immigrants since last year, but the sector already has recorded 40 deaths.

Last year, the Brooks County Sheriff's Office reported more than sixty immigrant deaths, while just last week at least three bodies were recovered in remote areas.

Huey said each beacon is strategically located with instructions in three languages, English, Spanish and Chinese. They read, "If you need help push the red button. Help will arrive. Do not leave the area."

The beacons also have drawings showing how to push the button.

She said once the beacons are activated, a distress signal is triggered that leads agents with global positioning systems to locate the immigrants.

Huey reports at least three migrants have been rescued since March, including two women last month.

The beacons also serve as a potentially life-saving point of reference if migrants call 911.

Diana De Leon, communications supervisor with the Brooks County Sheriff's Office, took one of the call in March from a man who told her he had blisters on his foot and had not eaten for days.

De Leon said he kept walking and calling her until finally, "He had come across like a beacon or an antenna."

After telling him to press the button, she said it gave agents his exact location.

She said, “That’s one of the few success stories that we run across.”

About the Author

Jessie Degollado has been with KSAT since 1984. She is a general assignments reporter who covers a wide variety of stories. Raised in Laredo and as an anchor/reporter at KRGV in the Rio Grande Valley, Jessie is especially familiar with border and immigration issues. In 2007, Jessie also was inducted into the San Antonio Women's Hall of Fame.

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