Mission, TEXAS – U.S. Border Patrol hosted a security event Tuesday morning in the Rio Grande Valley that was aimed to cast a light on the dangers undocumented immigrants face when entering the U.S.
On Tuesday morning, the temperatures reached the 90s in Mission, Texas. As part of a security demonstration, two Border Patrol agents walk through dense brush near the Rio Grande, about 10 minutes south of the border wall. Agent Sandra Velásquez received a message from dispatch about a woman in distress.
“Rescue beacon activated,” a dispatch agent said over the radio.
“10-4,” Velásquez said. “We will be on foot.”
In the staged scenario, a woman pressed a button on a rescue beacon, a resource that has helped save hundreds of lives according to Border Patrol.
“(The rescue beacon) sends a signal over to our dispatch communication center,” said Milton Moreno said, Deputy Patrol Agent in Charge at the Weslaco Station. “The operator relays that information and dispatch is activated. The operator at the communication center is able to listen. That equipment has a microphone and also a camera, so we can see what is going on.”
Border Patrol has 47 rescue beacons placed in areas of high traffic throughout the Rio Grande Valley to help agents find migrants in distress at a faster rate. Last year, Border Patrol only had seven rescue beacons.
“As a result of this additional deployment of rescue beacons, RGV has had an increase of 440% in beacon-initiated rescues this year,” said Joel Martínez, Deputy Chief of Border Patrol. “Since October, our agents have performed over 913 rescues, surpassing last year’s -- fiscal year 2021 -- figure of 677 rescues. And we still have three months to go. Tragically, there have been well over 140 migrant deaths.”
In Tuesday’s exercise, the woman was not alone. Her daughter was lost in the brush just north of the rescue beacon.
“We’ll look until we find them,” Velásquez said.
Border Patrol activated a heavy response from EMTs, BORTAC and BORSTAR Specialty Operation Units, a drone and K-9 to help find the person alive.
“Our agents go on patrol every day with a full understanding that they may be called upon to respond to someone in distress,” Martínez said. “As you know, the Valley can be very unforgiving and a daunting trek. The thick brush, the quicksand like ground, the relentless heat and humidity and the wildlife combine to make it difficult, if not impossible, journey for those who are ill prepared.”
Rescue efforts also happen daily on the Rio Grande.
“Imagine if those people go over(board),” said Joe Barrios said, a Patrol Agent with Border Patrol. “You have children going under, and you have to be an excellent, strong swimmer as it is to handle the currents and the undertow in the Rio Grande River. And you have a parent trying to keep their child afloat and trying to swim, which is why, at times, we do have drownings at the Rio Grande River.”
Smugglers use inflatable rafts to move groups of migrants across. The rafts are meant to hold four to six people. However, according to Border Patrol, smugglers often load the rafts with more than 10 people.
“They see them as very dispensable,” Barrios said. “And as long as they can get a few across, they get paid. So that’s the whole goal for the smuggling organizations. But at the same token, it shows the dangerous trek that the migrants are having to endure to get into the United States for a better living.”
While Border Patrol agents are trained to help save lives, Martínez wants to send a clear message to migrants planning to cross the border illegally.
“It’s not worth it. Do not place your life or the lives of your loved ones in the hands of these criminals,” Martínez said. “With the rising temperature in South Texas, this is a guaranteed death sentence, and crossing the border illegally shouldn’t be a death sentence.”
As Texas enters the summer months, Border Patrol said they expect 911 calls from distressed migrants to increase. For that reason, the RGV Border Patrol Sector has expanded the efforts of its Missing Migrant Program.
“The primary function is to mitigate the loss of life. The program is also responsible responsible for identifying or the identification of deceased migrants and the remains, which often are merely skeletal remains,” Martínez said. “This fiscal year, our agents have provided closure to the families of 57 of 86 deceased (migrants) encountered in our sector.”