DEL RIO, Texas – Now that illegal crossings have slowed down due to stricter policies on both sides of the border, Marine agents with U.S. Border Patrol have undergone even more of the training they'll need in the future.
The usually quiet Del Rio sector saw a record 19 drownings and 350 water rescues during fiscal year 2019, according to Border Patrol Assistant Chief Agent Brady Waikel.
Waikel said the sector's water rescues accounted for almost half of all water rescues along the 2,000-mile southwest border.
"It's inevitable. We're going to see it again," Waikel said.
He said the training will allow Marine agents "to safely rescue people out of the river without putting themselves in danger."
"The training that we're doing now is going to prepare us in case this ever takes place again," said Jose Gomez, a Marine unit commander.
Some of that training played out in real life for Gomez and his partner last June.
Gomez recounted the time they saved a child who nearly drowned. Within seconds of their boat arriving at Port of Entry #2 in Eagle Pass, they received a call about three people in the river.
Gomez said they spotted a man and a woman in the water but couldn’t find a third person until fellow agents pointed out a child.
“We saw the individual, the kid. All we saw was the top of his head was floating. So I told my partner, 'We’ve got to get somebody in the water,'" Gomez said.
Gomez said they flipped the boat around and got the child out of the river and successfully performed CPR.
"The kid's eyes opened up and (he) coughed up water," Gomez said. “We rolled him over and his heartbeat — we could feel it going through the roof."
The entire time, Gomez said the boy's parents were clinging to a nearby rock in the river. They were eventually rescued.
"(The parents) saw the whole thing. They were within 20 yards of us," Gomez said.
Gomez said one detail keeps replaying in his mind about when he went to the ambulance to check on the child after the rescue.
“I gave him the thumbs up. He gave me the thumbs up,” Gomez said. “He’s going to have a story to tell. And it’s like I tell my partner, ‘We were put there at the right place, at the right time.’”
Since the rescue happened, before the stricter policies that are in place now went into effect, the Honduran teenager and his parents were released to await their immigration hearings.