Border deaths soar; 2021 could break all-time record

The Washington Times:

Rogelio Perez Gutierrez probably saw the lights of La Jolla from the boat in the minutes before he and 13 other illegal immigrants were ordered to strip off their life jackets, jump into the water and swim for it. That was as close as he would get.

That was as close as he would get.

Many of the migrants struggled in the water. Gutierrez had it the worst. The others would later recall to agents that he slipped under the surf, and they then saw his lifeless body floating near the panga boat that was supposed to have brought them to shore.

Gutierrez is another grim statistic of this year’s unprecedented border surge — one of 61 people to die trying to sneak into the U.S. in May, and one of 383 over the last 10 months. They’ve drowned, fallen from the border wall, died of exposure, succumbed to illness or, increasingly, perished in car wrecks when the smugglers careened out of control.

If seasonal patterns hold, the Border Patrol is on pace to challenge 2005 as the worst year in memory for border deaths.

Ronald Vitiello, a former chief of the Border Patrol, said it’s a matter of math: More people are coming, so more are dying.

“It’s all based on the volume,” he said. “We’ve gone to unprecedented heights in attempted entries. There are more people dying on the way, there are more people dying at the border, there’s more risk to the people coming.”

The latest death was announced Saturday.

Agents joined Texas Department of Public Safety troopers in chasing a vehicle carrying illegal immigrants, which fled from a traffic stop near Falfurrias. After a 44-mile pursuit, and several failed attempts to spike the pickup truck’s tires, agents and troopers both deployed deflation devices at the same time, forcing the truck to a stop — and among those inside was a Mexican man, unresponsive, in the back seat.

Agents and troopers did CPR for 40 minutes until emergency medical services arrived and declared the man dead.

Falfurrias sits in Brooks County, 80 miles north of the U.S.-Mexico boundary. But it and neighboring Kenedy County account for a staggering number of deaths because of the highway checkpoints the Border Patrol operates in each place.

In a single week earlier this month, 10 bodies were recovered from the remote ranch lands that surround the checkpoints. Smugglers send migrants on days-long walks around the checkpoints in heat topping 95 degrees, and many don’t make it.

Heat is also a major killer in the deserts of Arizona, where calls for rescue pour in at Border Patrol stations, sometimes from migrants themselves, who decide it’s better to give up and get caught and try again. Often, they wait too long.

One recent trend in deaths is people falling from the border wall.

Through July, the Border Patrol counted 383 deaths at the border from all causes, already outstripping the 253 recorded in all of 2020 or the 300 recorded in 2019, during the previous border surge.

August and September, the final two months of the fiscal year, usually account for between 22% and 30% of the full-year total. If this year is closer to the 30% figure, then 2021 will end up with more deaths than the 492 recorded in 2005.

The deaths used to be concentrated in a few of the Border Patrol’s nine sectors, with Tucson, Laredo and Rio Grande sectors accounting for almost all of the tally.

But 2021 has seen a striking spread of misery. Every one of the nine sectors has seen double-digit death tolls. And the Del Rio sector, previously in the middle of the pack, now tops the list, with 71 recorded deaths through July.

Eight of those came in a single-car crash in March, when a Dodge Ram pickup carrying illegal immigrants led Texas troopers on a 50-mile chase, then veered into oncoming traffic, colliding head-on with a Ford F-150 pickup.

The flip side of deaths is rescues, where 2021 has already set a record.

Through July, with two months still to go in the fiscal year, agents tallied 10,528 rescues. That was already about double the 5,333 recorded in all of 2020.

The majority of rescues came in the Laredo Sector, though Del Rio, a little further up the Rio Grande, has seen its numbers soar this year as migrants search for new pathways into the U.S.

Agents have literally ridden to the rescue on horses, as they did to reach a group of eight migrants lost without water near Mexicali. In winter, they make snowstorm treks to pluck migrants off mountaintops.

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