CIUDAD JUAREZ, CHIHUAHUA.- For years, immigration advocates complained that U.S. Border Patrol agents were more focused on stopping border-crossers than helping people who got lost in the vast, often deadly terrain of the borderlands.
But a renewed emphasis on rescuing migrants – along with historically high numbers of asylum-seekers at the border – is leading to more rescues.
Statistics released this week by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the agency overseeing Border Patrol, show a sharp increase in border rescues:
- 5,336 rescued migrants in the fiscal year 2020.
- 12,857 in the fiscal year 2021.
- 22,014 in the fiscal year 2022, which ended in September.
“It’s increased, there’s no question about it,” said Vicente Rodriguez, co-founder of San Diego-based Águilas del Desierto, a nonprofit that coordinates with Border Patrol to save migrants. “Border Patrol is more concerned about saving lives than they had been in the past.”
Not all, however, get rescued in time: The number of migrant deaths at the border is also up. In fiscal 2021, agents tallied 568 migrant deaths, the highest ever recorded. Most of the deaths (219) were attributed to “environmental exposure-heat” as people trek through blazing terrain in Arizona and Texas. Agents also counted 86 deaths as “water-related” as migrants try to cross canals or the swift-moving Rio Grande, which divides the U.S. and Mexico.
Immigration advocates and experts believe the border death toll is much higher, and the federal system for death data long failed to include many border deaths.