MISSION, Texas (Border Report) — Border Patrol agents in the Rio Grande Valley Sector are putting rescue placards along the banks of the Rio Grande to help prevent migrant drownings.
It’s part of the Rescue Water Placard Initiative, and once completed, there should be 550 of these warning and locator signs spaced throughout three counties in the Rio Grande Valley, Border Patrol Agent Alex Jara told Border Report on Wednesday.
“We’ve had several rescues but there’s also been several deaths and that’s what we’re trying to mitigate with these placards,” Jara said. “Someone on land can call 911 and say, ‘We’re by this number and this sign’ and we know exactly where that sign is.”
The signs are in English and Spanish and say “Drowning Hazard” and each has a number for the caller to give to law enforcement. The numbers coincide with GPS-mapped locations and Jara says that will quickly allow law enforcement to locate them.
About 20 of the signs have so far been put up, starting near Falcon Dam in western Starr County. Eventually, the signs will span Hidalgo and Cameron counties to where the Rio Grande drains into the Gulf of Mexico, he said.
The RGV Sector currently is the only sector with this program, but U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials say they hope it will be expanded to other sectors in the Southwest, including the South Texas sectors in Laredo and Del Rio.
“The water rescue placards are another tool our agents will utilize to increase the rescue and enforcement capabilities of those who become lost or distressed,” RGV Chief Patrol Agent Gloria Chavez said. “Humanitarian assistance and safety protocols must always be allowed to reach those who need it in the safest manner possible for all involved.”
Jara says the Rio Grande is much more dangerous than most people realize.
“In Eagle Pass, you can see the river moving and people get in trouble. Here you cannot see the river. The current is underneath. So people jump in and they start getting dragged under by the current. It is very dangerous,” he said.
Eagle Pass has had dozens of drownings this past year as heavy rains flooded the region. The Rio Grande is much narrower there where it divides the South Texas city from Piedras Negras, Mexico.
That resulted in many unidentified remains buried in local cemeteries, which officials still are trying to identify.
This week, heavy rains have fallen in the Rio Grande Valley, and Jara says it’s perfect timing to get the signs up to prevent migrants from trying to cross into the United States by way of the Rio Grande.
If they do get in trouble, however, he says someone on land should immediately call 911 and give the number of the nearest placard to law enforcement.
“A lot of times people who get in trouble call their families in Mexico, who then call the consulate, who then call police. It takes too long. Just call 911 and give this number and it will be much quicker,” he said.
Jara says 911 service will work in the United States even if a phone is registered in Mexico.