Exposure to extreme West Texas heat behind growing number of migrant deaths, officials say

Texas

An ATV is among rescue and recovery equipment used in Hudspeth County this month to retrieve and recover lost migrants. (Courtesy Photo)

EDITOR’S NOTE: Some photos in this story contain graphic images.

PHARR, Texas (Border Report) — Triple-digit temperatures are being blamed for the deaths of at least four migrants in just three days in Hudspeth County in remote West Texas, and officials told Border Report they fear they will find more bodies as the immigrant surge continues in this region.

Three of the four undocumented immigrants found last week were from Mexico, Hudspeth County Emergency Management Coordinator and County Administrator Joanna MacKenzie said.

Photos of deceased migrants found in Hudspeth County recently are seen as of June 24, 2021 and were taken by the Hudspeth County Sheriff. (Courtesy Photo)

Rescue crews found the remains of a 32-year-old Mexican man “next to a dry tank … a cattle tank and had empty bottles around him,” MacKenzie said.

Joanna MacKenzie

“These guys are all dying of exposure right now. And we anticipate it to go up,” she said via phone from her Hudspeth County, which is about 100 miles east of El Paso and the current site for an unprecedented spike in migrants crossing through the area.

Hudspeth County sheriff’s deputies spent two days assisting in rescue efforts but “we had to call back our guys because of the extreme heat,” MacKenzie said.

Sierra Blanca, the county seat, is the largest town in this rural ranching area, and it only has 480 residents. The county only has a few ambulances and first-responder personnel, so dispatching them on these rescue and recovery missions is taking a toll on county resources, MacKenzie said.

An ATV is among rescue and recovery equipment used in Hudspeth County this month to retrieve and recover lost migrants. (Courtesy Photo)

“So many of these resources are being utilized. We don’t have much as it is. We just don’t,” MacKenzie said.

Most of the migrants who are lost are called in by the migrants, or their families, MacKenzie said. Only the remains of one migrant was found by Border Patrol in this vast, remote terrain marked by canyons and rattlesnakes and extreme heat and cold.

Many ranchers are coming across lost migrants, too, she said.

On Wednesday evening, it took a rancher and his ranch hands two hours to locate a group of 10 lost migrants, all of whom were found alive. One was flown via helicopter to a hospital and two ambulances were used to transport the injured. They were found about 15 miles from the border. Three were in critical condition, including two women and a 40-something man, and two of them were having convulsions, MacKenzie said.

“The heat is what’s making this more killer than usual,” she said.

The area is in a drought and many migrants who are lost and desperate will cut water lines as a way to survive, she said. But that puts residents at risk.

Since President Joe Biden took office, there has been a significant uptick in migrants crossing the Southwest border, even in dangerous and remote areas like Hudspeth County.

A Coke bottle atop a stick marks the location of where the remains of a migrant was found on June 23, 2021, in Hudspeth County, Texas. (Courtesy Photo)

The remains of the lost migrant who had been found near the empty stock tank, were left in the dirt in a remote area where someone who had been with him marked the spot with a long stick and a Coke bottle attached to it.

“It took us three days to find him because the area was so remote he was,” MacKenzie said.

He was only 3 miles from the border “but the heat is so extreme and the terrain is so bad that you get heat exhaustion within just a couple of hours,” she said.

Sandra Sanchez can be reached at Ssanchez@borderreport.com.

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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.