Border Patrol agents had to rescue a double-amputee illegal immigrant in a wheelchair from an island in the middle of the Rio Grande this week, a day after pulling a deaf and dumb man from the water.
The rescues are part of a pattern of increasingly frail or ailing migrants attempting to sneak into the U.S., assisted by smuggling cartels eager to cash in on lax American enforcement policies.
In the case of the Guatemalan man in a wheelchair, he was spotted Wednesday by agents on a boat.
When agents rescued him, the double-amputee made the stunning claim that he’d reached the island on his own, but was unable to finish the crossing.
Agents concluded he lacked permission to be in the U.S., then helped him reach the U.S. shore.
On Wednesday, agents nabbed a Honduran man crossing the Rio Grande who could neither hear nor speak. They said that made communications difficult.
“The current humanitarian crisis on the border is stressing our immigration system,” said Del Rio Sector Chief Patrol Agent Felix Chavez. “Our agents treat each person with humanity and compassion while enforcing the immigration laws and protecting the country.”
Also this week agents said they arrested a 36-year-old Honduran woman with a mental impairment that left her agitated. She had snuck into the U.S. with her step-brother, who agents said was able to calm her enough to process her.
Authorities say those kinds of migrants represent a new and challenging change at the border.
As recently as several years ago, most illegal immigrants on the border were single adults from Mexico, who were usually relatively healthy. When caught they were also quickly returned.
But now the majority of migrants caught at the border are children and families from Central America, who are much tougher to deport. More than 98 percent of the children and families caught in 2017 are still in the U.S., officials say.
Over the last few months authorities say they’ve seen an even more frightening change with smuggling cartels using buses to run up through Mexico. That means even frail migrants are now able to reach the U.S.-Mexico border, where they’re led across and told to seek help from Border Patrol agents.
The result has been an increase in sick migrants being detained — some 50 a day are in need of immediate medical care. And in some tragic cases children who arrived at the border have died, apparently from conditions developed during the journey.