Border Patrol agents stopped a Honda driving suspiciously near the California-Mexico boundary on Saturday and ordered everyone out of the car, but one woman didn’t get out. She couldn’t.
Others in the car told agents they had walked five hours through the desert’s midday heat without water until they were finally picked up. Once in the car, the woman slipped in and out of consciousness. She was airlifted to a hospital, where she was pronounced dead.
In Texas, agents were pulling bodies out of rivers, ponds and lakes all last week. They would have pulled out even more but for some heroic water rescues. It was the heat in Arizona, where authorities recovered bodies from the rugged terrain. Across the southwestern border, agents are reporting a disheartening number of people being thrown or ejected from vehicles as smugglers try to evade capture. The migrants themselves often plead for the drivers to stop.
Far from cooling off, as the White House predicted earlier this year, the border is becoming even more chaotic with numbers of illegal immigrant juveniles once again rising, smugglers growing bolder and trying innovative methods to avoid agents, and those agents encountering resistance, often with weapons.
Illegal migration encounters in April and May were at their highest levels in more than 20 years. June numbers aren’t complete, but the number of unaccompanied juvenile migrants is ticking up after a lull.
Brandon Judd, president of the National Border Patrol Council, said the chaos and death are simple matters of numbers. Smugglers have enticed more people to come to the U.S. under President Biden, so more people are dying.
“Nobody should be surprised that this is happening,” said Mr. Judd, a longtime agent. “This is exactly what has always happened when you have the number of people crossing the border we’re seeing today. This administration, based on history, should have known that this was what they were going to create when they brought back the catch-and-release program encouraging so many people to cross our borders illegally.”
As of May, eight months into the fiscal year, the Border Patrol tallied 203 deaths of migrants along the border. That is before the heat of summer, when mortality rates soar. In fiscal 2020, the Border Patrol tallied 250 migrant deaths across all 12 months.
Three of the nine southwestern border sectors already have surpassed the totals for all of 2020.
“CBP’s message for anyone who is thinking of entering the United States illegally along the Southern border is simple: Don’t do it,” the border agency said in a statement. “When migrants cross the border illegally, they put their lives in peril. The terrain along the border is extreme, the summer heat is severe, and the miles of desert migrants must hike after crossing the border in many areas are unforgiving.”
Customs and Border Protection did not address a question about how much blame lies with the Biden policy changes.
Whatever the culpability, the grim reality of death is a near-daily occurrence for those along the border, where smugglers and even fellow migrants are all too ready to abandon those who can’t keep up in the desert or leave them to drown if they struggle to cross the Rio Grande.
Agents over the weekend nabbed a group of migrants in Brownsville, Texas, who reported that they had left a woman behind after she injured a leg from falling off the border wall. Agents managed to find the 39-year-old Mexican woman in the dense brush near a border park, stabilized her on a medical backboard and got her to a hospital.
A group of migrants in Arizona got into a fight with their smuggling guide, who kept pushing them in mid-June heat and berated one man who was shaking and delirious. “You don’t have balls or what? You are walking like a child. Why did you come if you couldn’t handle it?” the guide said, according to a Border Patrol account.
Elsewhere in Arizona, agents were tracking a sedan on June 11 when they saw its back door open and two migrants flung out. One was dragged for a brief moment before rolling free. The migrants later told agents that the driver had ordered them out but refused to slow down more.
In Laredo, Texas, agents spotted people jumping into a white pickup last week and then speeding away, sending people spilling out of the truck. Agents lost track of the vehicle but learned it soon crashed, leaving two occupants dead at the scene and a third who succumbed at a San Antonio hospital.
Agents in southeastern Arizona, meanwhile, found a man suffering from heat exposure last week. They stabilized him, and an ambulance took him to a local hospital and then to Tucson, but he died Thursday.
The borderwide death toll would be much higher but for some individual heroics.
One agent last week spotted a Guatemalan boy struggling to stay afloat in a pond near the Rio Grande in Penitas, Texas. The agent tied a rope around his waist and splashed into the water to pull the boy out. Both needed medical help, but the boy survived.
Agents in Eagle Pass, Texas, were tracking a group of illegal immigrants last week when they heard yelling. They followed the noise and discovered several migrants drowning in a man-made lake.
Agents rushed into the water and rescued one man but found another, a Guatemalan, unresponsive. They performed CPR for 32 minutes but could not revive the man.
A surviving migrant then said another man was missing, and agents went back into the water to recover the body of a second Guatemalan man.
All told, CBP has tallied about 7,000 rescues this fiscal year, 35% more than all of 2020.
“Even though we’re facing an unprecedented situation where we don’t have the support of the administration or even DHS, our agents are putting on their uniform, going out and doing their jobs beyond what could possibly be expected of them,” Mr. Judd said.
Agents are reporting startling confrontations between smugglers and migrants on the one hand, and law enforcement and American citizens on the other.
Three illegal immigrants stole weapons from a ranch house they burglarized Tuesday, agents in Sierra Blanca, Texas, reported.
Last week, an off-duty agent fishing with his family on the Rio Grande near Laredo was approached by three men who brandished firearms and identified themselves as “Federales” — Mexico’s federal police — as they headed back to Mexico.
Agents believe they were actually drug couriers.
The off-duty agent was in civilian clothes and did not reveal that he worked for the Border Patrol. He and his family weren’t harmed.
When agents can’t save someone, identification can be hard — but it’s important for families.
Agents were tracking a group of three illegal immigrants in Yuma, Arizona, on June 13 when they found the corpse of a woman under a tree. She had a Mexican ID card with her, but the Mexican Consulate said it was bogus.
Consular officials called a phone number found among the woman’s possessions and connected it to the family of a 23-year-old Guatemalan woman. A Border Patrol agent then searched agency arrest records and found the woman in their files, including fingerprints to match the body.
It turned out that the woman was caught jumping the border on June 9 and again on June 11. Her final attempt two days later ended in death.