Officials on both sides of the U.S.–Mexico border searched for more victims Saturday after at least nine migrants died while trying to cross the rain-swollen Rio Grande.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Mexican officials discovered the victims near Eagle Pass, Texas, on Thursday, following days of heavy rains. U.S. officials recovered six bodies, while Mexican teams recovered three, according to a CBP statement. It is one of the deadliest drownings on the U.S.–Mexico border in recent history.
The river, which was a little more than 3 feet deep at the start of the week, reached more than 5 feet on Thursday, and the water was flowing five times faster than usual, according to the National Weather Service.
The CBP said U.S. crews rescued 37 others from the river and detained 16 more, while Mexican officials took 39 migrants into custody.
CBP did not say what country or countries the migrants were from and did not provide any additional information on rescue and search operations. Local agencies in Texas that were involved have not responded to requests for information.
Among the bodies recovered from the river by Mexican authorities were a man and a pregnant woman, although their nationalities were unknown, said Francisco Contreras, a member of Civil Protection in the Mexican border state of Coahuila. No details were released about the third body found.
The Border Patrol’s Del Rio sector, which includes Eagle Pass, is fast becoming the busiest corridor for illegal crossings. Agents stopped migrants nearly 50,000 times in the sector in July, with Rio Grande Valley a distant second at about 35,000. Eagle Pass is about 140 miles southwest of San Antonio.
Chief Patrol Agent Jason Owens of the Del Rio sector said that despite dangerous currents from recent rainfall, Border Patrol agents in the sector continue to encounter groups as large as 100 or 200 people trying to cross the Rio Grande each day.
“In an effort to prevent further loss of life, we are asking everyone to please avoid crossing illegally,” Owens said in a statement.
The area draws migrants from dozens of countries. About six of 10 stops in the Del Rio sector in July were migrants from Venezuela, Cuba, or Nicaragua. The region also has been a popular crossing point for migrants from Haiti, thousands of whom have been stuck in border towns since 2016, when the Obama administration abruptly halted a policy that initially allowed them in on humanitarian grounds.
The sector, which extends 245 miles along the Río Grande, has been especially dangerous because river currents can be deceptively fast and change quickly. Crossing the river can be challenging even for strong swimmers.
In a news release last month, CBP said it had discovered bodies of more than 200 dead migrants in the sector from October through July.
This year is on track to break last year’s record for the most deaths on the U.S.–Mexico border since 2014, when the U.N. International Organization for Migration began keeping records. The organization has tallied more than 4,000 deaths on the border since 2014, based on news reports and other sources, including 728 last year and 412 during the first seven months of this year, often from dehydration or drowning. June was the fourth-deadliest month on record, with 138 fatalities.
The Border Patrol has not released official tallies since 2020.
In June, 53 illegal immigrants were found dead or dying in a tractor-trailer on a back road in San Antonio in the deadliest documented tragedy to claim the lives of illegal immigrants smuggled across the border from Mexico.
Some of the busiest crossings on the border—including Eagle Pass and Yuma, Arizona—were relatively quiet two years ago and now largely draw migrants from outside Mexico and Central America’s “Northern Triangle” countries of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. Mexico has agreed to take migrants from the “Northern Triangle” countries, as well as its own nationals, if they are expelled from the United States under Title 42, the pandemic rule in effect since March 2020 that denies rights to seek asylum on grounds of preventing the spread of COVID-19.
People from other countries are likely to be released into the United States on humanitarian parole or with notices to appear in immigration court because the United States has difficulty flying them home due to costs, strained diplomatic relations, or other considerations. In the Border Patrol’s Del Rio sector, which includes Eagle Pass, only one of every four stops in July were processed under the pandemic rule, compared to about half across the rest of the border, according to government figures.
Venezuelans were by far the most common nationality encountered by Border Patrol agents in the Del Rio sector in July, accounting for 14,120 of 49,563 stops, or nearly three in 10. They were followed by Cubans, who were stopped 10,275 times, and then by Mexicans, Hondurans, Nicaraguans, and Colombians, in that order.