Border Patrol saves 2 immigrant families attempting to cross river

More families risking their lives trying to float across Rio Grande

By Jessie Degollado - Reporter, Misael Gomez - Photojournalist

EAGLE PASS, Texas - U.S. Border Patrol agents in Eagle Pass on Tuesday rescued 11 immigrants from Honduras who were stranded on a small island along the Rio Grande River.

The group included six children under the age of 6 -- the youngest was 2 months old.

Border Patrol did not confirm if the people in the group used a kiddie pool as a flotation device to cross over. 

It's the latest of many river rescues in Eagle Pass.

So far in fiscal year 2019, there have been 402 water rescues compared to just 32 in fiscal year 2018, officials said. Among the people plucked from the river this year were five children, including two who drowned.

Reporter Debrief: Rescues at Border Crossings

Brian Kemmett, Border Patrol agent in charge in Eagle Pass, said recent water releases from Amistad Dam up river have ended, but the currents are deceptive.

"The undertow and the undercurrent is really, really swift, and is very, very strong," Kemmett said.

Kemmett said many families with young children -- even infants -- are willing to use kiddie wading pools, inflatable mattresses, trash bags filled with air, and other unsafe flotation devices to get to the U.S.

Kemmett said that was the case May 10 when families in two kiddie pools were rescued.

When the immigrants panicked and fell into the river, several Border Patrol agents jumped in.

"The water was deeper than I thought. The water was up to my neck," said Brady Waikel, assistant chief patrol agent, who was close to the river bank. 

Reporter captures video of family crossing Rio Grande while swimming behind them

Waikel said he still managed to grab hold of a man and child who were being swept away by the strong current.

Kemmett said the frequency of the life-and-death dramas is taking an emotional and physical toll on Border Patrol agents who are responding to rescues.

"They're getting battle fatigue, but they're fighting it," he said.

Kemmett compared the numerous rescue attempts on the Rio Grande River to the San Antonio Fire Department risking their lives to save motorists trapped in high-water rescues.

WEB EXTRA VIDEO: Reporter swims Rio Grande to capture immigrants attempt to float across Rio Grande River.

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