SUNLAND PARK, New Mexico (Border Patrol) – The U.S. Border Patrol is again calling on migrants not to trust smugglers who are telling them it’s safe to cross the southern New Mexico desert in triple-digit heat.
The plea comes as the number of deceased individuals found by border agents in the El Paso Sector this fiscal year reached 96 this week. Most of the bodies (69) were found in the Santa Teresa Border Patrol Station area of responsibility. It stretches from Mount Cristo Rey in Sunland Park to near Columbus, New Mexico. Border agents only found 29 bodies in that area in all of fiscal year 2022.
The Border Patrol says only medical examiners in the county where the bodies are found can definitively determine the identities of the bodies. But agency officials suspect most of them are migrants.
“We are currently recording a significant number of migrant deaths in New Mexico due to the desert terrain and extreme heat. Migrants do not have sufficient water and there is minimal shade,” the Border Patrol said in a statement to Border Report.
The El Paso, Texas-Santa Teresa, New Mexico region has experienced 36 consecutive days of temperatures above 100 degrees. The City of El Paso has set up “cooling stations” throughout the city and the National Weather Service issued several extreme heat advisories during that stretch.
But south of the border wall, smugglers in Mexico are giving migrants en route to the U.S. misleading advice that is killing them, border agents say.
“We are seeing a lot of people crossing during the hottest part of the day, which is something we normally had not seen before. That ends up being a very dangerous thing,” said Andy Buckert, a watch commander at the Santa Teresa Border Patrol Station.
Speaking at a business community gathering Friday in Sunland Park, Buckert said migrants are being fed misinformation by smugglers that border agents cease patrolling during the hottest hours of the day.
“What we are finding is they have been held in stash houses on the Mexican side; they don’t get enough water; they don’t get enough food,” Buckert said. “When they cross the border they are already ‘gassed out.’ They don’t have the energy to run and the smuggler is telling them, ‘Run! Run! The highway is not that far.’ They end up losing their (bearings), they get separated from the group, they end up overheating and dying in situations like that.”
The Border Patrol has carried out 330 rescues in the El Paso Sector since October 1. The agency has deployed 17 “rescue” beacons where migrants in trouble can push a button to summon assistance. It has also placed 500 placards in remote areas with a number the migrant can pass on to a 911 operator for quick location.
Still, agents often find people already deceased or beyond help.
“The ages vary. We have seen 30 to 40 (year olds), young adults, minors – not infants, those we haven’t seen,” the watch commander said. “Sometimes we encounter them alive, and we will (apply) every lifesaving measure we can. […] Sometimes we cool them off until the paramedics get there. One time the paramedics got there, and the temperature was still 107 (despite the cooling); one time the temperature was so high they couldn’t get a reading.”
Buckert called on the people of Sunland Park and Santa Teresa to help Border Patrol and first responders get to endangered migrants fast. He clarified community concerns regarding how far an ordinary citizen can help a migrant without breaking the law.
“If anybody encounters somebody out in the field, by all means provide them water. The Immigration and Naturalization Act is clear. If you are providing shelter (or transportation), that is a different story,” he told community members.
He also called for support of border agents who not only are out in the desert every day braving the heat, but also have to cope with coming across deceased individuals or watching somebody die despite rendering aid. The migrants sometimes die a few hundred yards from a highway where they could have been spotted by passing motorists, police or Border Patrol agents.
“The community is the most important partner we have. We need your help,” he said, adding the agency does have in-house programs to help agents cope with such stress.