Stirring photo captures border agent saving migrant at Southern border as excessive heat raises death toll

US border policy, however, intentionally directs migrants towards dangerous areas

Josh Marcus
San Francisco
Friday 09 July 2021 18:50
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A striking photo captures a Border Patrol agent rescuing a migrant in the harsh terrain of Texas’s Rio Grande Valley and carrying her to safety on his shoulders, the latest emergency call as summer heat at US-Mexico border makes the already perilous crossing even more deadly.

“Special Operations Detachment carry a migrant out of the brush and to safety," Rio Grande Valley sector chief Brian Hastings tweeted on Thursday. "The migrant suffered an injury while being smuggled into the US."

As of May, the Border Patrol has rescued more than 7,000 people this fiscal year, more than the same period in previous years.

Officials from both border nations at an event in Yuma, Arizona, on Thursday warned that excessive heat is making the crossing extremely dangerous, against a backdrop of 110 degree weather.

“When you cross illegally, you put yourself in incredible peril,” Chris Clem, chief Border Patrol agent of the Yuma section, said, adding that he’s already seen 15 “unnecessary deaths” from heat so far in 2021.

“Don’t do it,” added James Schuetzler, who directs the detachment’s aerial division. “It’s dangerous. “That’s all there is to it.”

Despite the warnings from officials, US border policy is explicitly designed to push migrants to cross in dangerous, remote areas as a way to deter further crossings.

In 1994, the Clinton administration Border Patrol introduced “prevention through deterrence", which tightened security at common border crossings like Tijuana and El Paso to push migrants into the backcountry and ideally put them in “mortal danger”. Since then, policies like the US-Mexico border wall have shunted migrants even further into the dangerous wilderness.

And these changes have had their desired effect. A recent report from the University of Arizona found that for decades the rate of recovered remains at the border has stayed steady, while apprehensions have declined, suggesting the crossing is growing more dangerous.

“The most devastating effect will undoubtedly be the increasing of migrant deaths as they get pushed further and further into dangerous deserts and isolated mountain areas,” Chris Zepeda-Millán, a University of California, Los Angeles professor who co-authored Walls, Cages, and Family Separation: Race and Immigration Policy in the Trump Era, told The Independent last year, in regards to the border wall. “That’s literally our stated policy.”

The US government has even prosecuted humanitarian groups that leave food and water in the desert for migrants.

In 2020, a federal judge in Arizona reversed charges against a group of such volunteers, writing that the “gruesome logic” of going after people offering desperate migrants lifesaving aide was “profoundly disturbing.”

For those who do make it across the border, the Biden administration is immediately expelling most adult migrants under Title 42, a Trump-era policy shutting down the border on ostensible Covid grounds, even though public health officials have said such a measure wasn’t necessary.

The woman carried on the Border Patrol agent’s shoulders is likely to be immediately deported without a chance to seek asylum. The Independent has reached out to the Border Patrol to confirm.

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