EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – With afternoon temperatures in the 100s all week, authorities on both sides of the border are warning migrants not to risk their lives crossing the desert.
“(We) highly discourage migrants from attempting to illegally enter the United States, especially during summer months. The recent triple-digit temperatures represent a dangerous condition that can easily end in dehydration or heatstroke, provoking death,” the U.S. Border Patrol’s El Paso Sector said in a statement.
Migrant deaths in the El Paso-Southern New Mexico area increased fourfold last fiscal year, going from just 10 in 2020 to 39 in 2021. Rescues went up from 330 to 688 in the same period. Not all deaths were heat-related; some have drowned in canals or died from falls. Nationwide, the Border Patrol reported 247 migrant deaths in 2020.
In Juarez, where at least 15,000 individuals and families in transit are holding up, government officials also are worried that newcomers don’t know what they’re getting into when they contract smugglers to get across into the United States.
“Extreme heat is a concern, not only for the local population but for those in transit. We urge (migrants) to avoid dangerous crossing areas at all costs and to drink plenty of water if they’re out in the open,” said Enrique Valenzuela, director of the Chihuahua Population Council which runs Juarez’s Migrant Assistance Center.
Valenzuela said local officials procure shelter – whenever available – to newcomers as well as access to medical services. They also are engaged in a constant information war with smuggling organizations that promise migrants from Central America, Haiti and South America easy access to the United States.
“People in transit should procure official information. The U.S. border remains closed to those without proper documents. We also want them to know the risks. They should not expose their families to the heat in open areas or along routes between ports of entry where the footing is uncertain,” he said.
U.S. Border Patrol officials say a twisted ankle can be deadly for migrants coming across the border wall or experiencing a fall in the desert because the smugglers will abandon them.
Border Report in March interviewed a Guatemalan woman who was abandoned by smugglers in mountains near Van Horn, Texas, after she hurt her foot. Her smuggler told her via telephone to keep going and that another “guide” would go get her. No one came and the smuggler stopped answering the phone. A Border Patrol helicopter crew spotted and rescued the woman.
“Criminal smuggling organizations do not care about the welfare of migrants. These criminals only care about the money they can make from exploiting vulnerable people. Illegal human smuggling is a multi-billion dollar per year criminal enterprise for transnational criminal organizations,” the agency told Border Report.
Many border agents are also trained emergency medical technicians and the agency has a special search, rescue and trauma unit codenamed BORSTAR.
Juarez Civil Protection Director Roberto Briones said local police often assist the Mexican army and the National Migration Institute in safety patrols along the Rio Grande and in the desert terrain northwest of the city. He did not have stats on migrant deaths on the Mexican side, but police have recovered bodies near the border wall, one just a few months ago.
Hot weather or not, migrants ready to cross into U.S.
Despite warnings about the heat and conflicting information on being allowed to remain in the United States once they make it across the border wall, migrants continue arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border.
“We continue to see an increased flow of people, including those who approach us to seek information or access to services such as shelters. Obviously, the great majority are intent on crossing into the United States,” Valenzuela said.
Martin, 19, a native of Monterrey, Mexico, on Wednesday told Border Report the heat doesn’t bother him. “It was hotter on the day I took the bus to Juarez,” the migrant said, adding he intended to get across the border the next morning.
Martin said he wanted to work in the construction industry in Houston but heard from friends that crossing through Reynosa was too dangerous due to warring drug cartels literally killing each other off over ownership of migrants. He said a few hours walking through the desert couldn’t be as dangerous.
Sitting on a sidewalk overlooking the Paso del Norte Bridge, Haitian citizen Jean Pierre Inerve said he and his pregnant wife are still trying to decide if they’ll stay in Juarez and look for work or turn themselves in to the U.S. Border Patrol across the river to ask for asylum.
“A young man saw us on the street and told us it was too dangerous. He took us to his home and we’re staying with his family,” Inerve said. “Our plan is to find a good place to work and raise our family. No matter where you are, you still have to send money to your family.”
Inerve said the temperature in Juarez seems a little hotter than in Chiapas, Mexico, where he also has spent time. “Wherever you go, if it’s hot it’s hot, if it’s cold, it’s cold,” he said.
Already, he has endured the elements on the streets of Juarez. He’s not the only one.