SUNLAND PARK, New Mexico (Border Report) – A helicopter hovered over the mountain as two U.S. Border Patrol vehicles drove along railroad tracks. The eyes in the sky guided agents on the ground trying to locate people seen walking Mount Cristo Rey, a mountain that straddles two countries and is often used by transnational criminal organizations to smuggle migrants.
There was urgency in the search very near where a woman found hours earlier had fallen 30 feet onto jagged rocks. Border agents found the woman who spent the night on the spot where she fell, and an ambulance took her to a hospital in serious condition.
Such scenes have become common in the western portion of the nation’s busiest migrant corridor.
“We are experiencing a historic year in the El Paso Sector. We’re up to 224,000 migrant encounters this fiscal year up to February, with a daily average of 1,153,” said Orlando Marrero-Rubio, a sector spokesman for the Border Patrol. “That’s a 156.2% increase over the same period last year. With those numbers, everything increases: rescues, stash houses, etc.”
The surge in the region comes even as the number of asylum-seekers turning themselves in near the Rio Grande has plummeted after the Biden administration began requiring citizens of Venezuela, Cuba, Haiti and Nicaragua to apply remotely. The Border Patrol says those demographics are being replaced by people coming into the country illegally and trying to avoid capture. And they are doing so in some of the most remote and dangerous portions of the sector, such as Sunland Park and Santa Teresa, New Mexico.
“The migrants, they don’t know what they’re going to face when they come to the border. They just go by what the smugglers and transnational criminal organizations dictate. They do whatever the smuggler tells them to do,” Marrero said.
That includes being told to walk at night on a mountain that has steep drops, rocky terrain and washes.
Sunland Park-Santa Teresa “has three environments – urban, rural and remote – each with its own dangers. In the urban area, we have seconds to minutes to make that encounter. But in the rural environment, it may take hours to days, and in remote areas, it might be weeks before a migrant is able to come across a road, a house or a structure,” Marrero-Rubio said. “That (exposes) the migrant to getting lost or die from dehydration.”
The Border Patrol has set up an array of resources for migrants abandoned by smugglers in U.S. territory such as location placards, rescue beacons and artificial intelligence cameras able to track groups of migrants in the desert along several miles.
The sector is also redeploying agents from its eastern stations – Clint, Fort Hancock, Ysleta – to Sunland Park and Santa Teresa. The agency has also redeployed personnel from the Spokane and Blaine Border Patrol stations in Washington state to El Paso.
The help is welcome because, “unfortunately, we have had agents and migrants that have been injured or hurt doing the dangerous traversing or hiking on Mount Cristo Rey,” Marrero-Rubio said. “It is so hard to see where you are stepping at night you are easily get hurt or injured, and we have had people that have perished.”