Special report: ‘Desperate’ migrants risk life and limb climbing into small boats for journey to U.S.

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SAN DIEGO (Border Report) — In May, three people died and more than two dozen others were sent to the hospital when the 40-food Cabin Cruiser they were in ran aground off the San Diego coast.

All were forced into the water when the vessel hit some rocks after losing its engine.

This fatal episode underscores the dangers migrants face when getting into small boats hoping to land somewhere north of the border.

“Unfortunately, what this means is migrants have become much more frustrated, desperate and they cross in different ways including the ocean,” said Pedro Rios, a migrant advocate with the American Friends Service Committee in San Diego.

Rios said migrants are left with few options considering most have no access to the asylum process in the United States.

“We can attribute the increase of maritime crossings to one point, I believe, which is the application of title 42. It was the CDC order that Trump put in place to allow the Border Patrol to remove migrants and not allow them to present themselves in immigration court,” said Rios. “Title 42 was developed with the idea of removing Black and brown migrants; it was put in place using the pandemic as an excuse suggesting migrants were bringing into the U.S. the COVID-19 disease and so that was a pretext to block migration and it continues to do so.”

Pedro Rios is the Director of the American Friends Service Committee based in San Diego. (Elliot Macias/KSWB)

Rios is convinced the implementation and ongoing enforcement of Title 42 is the reason more and more migrants are engaging in dangerous journeys into the U.S. through the mountains, deserts and especially on the water.

“If the Biden administration would recommit to protecting those who are seeking asylum, then many of these individuals would present themselves at the border and would not feel the need to find dangerous ways to cross the U.S.,” he said.

It’s been widely reported most migrants are fleeing persecution, lack of opportunities and education for their children, ongoing violence and natural disasters that have destroyed crops and entire towns.

“All these factors contribute to why many people feel they have no other option than to migrate, and the U.S. then becomes a place where you would want to seek shelter,” Rios said.

According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, most of the migrants who journey north of the border begin their trek well south of Tijuana. Border Report is told migrants pay anywhere from $12,000 to $20,000 for a boat ride up the coast and have to come up with half of the money before they are allowed to board. Once they get to the U.S., their families must come up with the rest of the money, or the migrants are forced to work off their debt to the smugglers.

“It’s a very dangerous journey. Oftentimes, you will have a lot of people that will cram into what are known as panga boats or they might climb into somewhat larger boats. Sometimes, there’s the mixing of not only people but contraband that are brought with them. People are misinformed about what it means to get on the boat and cross into the U.S. and the dangers associated with that, one of them being is that they could die; we’ve seen that happen over and over again.”

Rios believes most crossings, and at times their tragic consequences, are very avoidable.

“The deaths in the water, the deaths in the desert are all avoidable if not only the U.S. but the Mexican government and other governments commit to protecting the lives of those who are forced to migrate, until we see that, unfortunately, we will continue to see these tragic incidents happen where there’s loss of life and families are destroyed,” he said.

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The mission of BorderReport.com is to provide real-time delivery of the untold local stories about people living, working and migrating along the U.S. border with Mexico. The information is gathered by experienced and trusted Nexstar Media Group journalists hired specifically to cover the border.