EAGLE PASS, Texas (Border Report) — A group of migrants screamed and flailed as a woman nearly went under as she tried to cross the swollen Rio Grande from Piedras Negras, Mexico, into Eagle Pass, Texas on Sunday night, in an area where nine migrants died just days before.
Border Report witnessed as one woman hung onto a concrete pillar under the international bridge for about 20 minutes as the sun was setting. She screamed in Spanish that she could not hang on and was held upright by flimsy yellow arm floaties.
She had been part of a group of migrants that had been waiting for over six hours to cross the Rio Grande from Mexico into into Eagle Pass, a popular area for migrant crossings, a Maverick County constable told Border Report.
The group of over 20 migrants included mostly Cubans and Venezuelas who had waited at the water’s edge. As the sun began to set around 7 p.m., Mexican police moved toward them, leaving them few choices: Surrender and face deportation or try to cross the swirling river.
They chose to swim.
But the current was so swift that they were immediately carried downstream as soon as they entered the water.
They tried to lift the children above their heads but most appeared to be just bobbing heads, kept barely above water, as their bodies were engulfed in the brown, murky water.
The group tried to stick together. But bit by bit they broke apart.
They swirled downstream as tiny dots in the river.
Later, some were seen walking back barefoot, muddy and tired, albeit on the U.S. side. One man’s leg was bleeding and he limped barefoot.
Two young men also were stranded at the bridge pillar, but they were able to quickly hoist themselves up and watched the water below. After they caught their breath, they swam for the U.S. shore and were safe.
The stranded woman, however, had a far more difficult time.
She held on and twirled helplessly at the base of the bridge as darkness moved over the region.
Screams pierced the air as children and other migrants on the embankment yelled, “ayuda!” for U.S. and Mexican officials to help.
Mexicans gathered on the grassy banks across the river watched the scenario play out.
On the U.S. side, passersby recorded on cellphones, while Texas National Guard stationed on the banks watched the scene unfold.
A boat came and tried to get close to her, but its wake caused the water to rise and she went under for a second.
More screams from children pierced the air.
Finally, someone provided the migrants with a red round flotation device and they tied long ropes together and formed a human chain and waded back into the water and were able to get the ring to the woman who was dragged to safety.
Cheers and high-fives penetrated the night air as the migrants hugged one another and smiled and threw fists into the air.
Tori Rogers, a Marine and aspiring documentarian from Dublin, Georgia, watched horrified as the woman struggled. And she smiled with relief when she was pulled to shore.
“We’ve seen a lot of celebrations when people make it across but what we just witnessed with her almost drowning is sad and that people are willing to risk their lives to come here. I feel like there needs to be a better way,” said Rogers, 44.
“She is very lucky because the water is very high right now. It’s just so sad,” she said.
After a summer of extreme drought, the Rio Grande is now up 5 feet, according to the National Weather Service.
More rains are expected in the next three days for the area that is soaked from nearly 5 inches in the past three days.
But more troubling, according to the National Weather Service, is the heavy rains in West Texas that are sending large amounts of water this way. Six to 8 inches of rainfall has struck West Texas over the last 10 days.
Border Patrol Chief Patrol Agent Jason Owens, of the Del Rio Sector, this weekend issued an urgent warning for migrants not to try to cross.
“This is a warning of extreme importance; the currents of the Rio Grande have become more dangerous due to recent and continuing rainfall and more rain is forecasted for the coming week. Despite these adverse conditions, U.S. Border Patrol, Del Rio Sector continues to encounter large groups of more than 100+, 200+ attempting to cross the Rio Grande daily,” Owens said.
“In an effort to prevent further loss of life, we are asking everyone to please avoid crossing illegally,” Owens said.
That didn’t stop 21-year-old Gabriel Andreas Rodriguez Sanchez and Jose Rojas Contreras, 38, of Venezuela who waded across Monday morning.
Both said in unison the river was “fuerte” (strong) and they said it was fierce.
But they said it was worth the risk.
“We want a better future,” Rodriguez Sanchez said as he sat shirtless and with soaking shorts on the muddy banks.
“There is nothing for us in our country,” Rojas Contreras said just moments before the pair were put into a Border Patrol vehicle and were taken away.
At the southern border, Title 42 remains in place, preventing migrants from crossing and claiming asylum. However, migrant advocates tell Border Report that those from countries to which the United States is unable to repatriate them back, such as Cuba and Venezuela, typically are released by the Department of Homeland Security, and that is what prompts them to continue to come.
Sandra Sanchez can be reached at Ssanchez@borderreport.com