Migrant deaths in West Texas desert worry officials as temperatures rise, resources dwindle

State & Regional

Hudspeth County, Texas, in remote West Texas is having a wave of migrant deaths, such as this migrant who died in June, county administrators tell Border Report. (Hudspeth County Sheriff’s Photo).

McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — A sudden rise in recent migrant deaths in Hudspeth County already has exceeded the total number of people who died from COVID-19 this year in this desolate West Texas border county, the county’s emergency management coordinator told Border Report.

Six migrants have died in Hudspeth County in these harsh elements in the past two weeks, including two deaths on Friday, Hudspeth County Administrator and Emergency Management Coordinator Joanna MacKenzie said Monday.

She said that is more migrant deaths than this county usually have in an entire year. Four people have died of COVID-19 so far this year.

Friday’s migrant deaths occurred within one hour of each other and in harsh terrain that is so remote that Border Patrol agents had to call in a helicopter for one man who died before the chopper could airlift him out, MacKenzie said.

Joanna MacKenzie

Another migrant had been part of a group that called 911 to notify sheriff’s deputies where the body was located.

And those are just the ones they are aware of, say officials who have real concerns that many more migrants are dying in the brush and canyons and that their bodies are not being discovered as triple-digit temperatures continue this summer.

“The big thing people don’t realize is the majority of these deaths are called in,” MacKenzie said. “We don’t stumble on these bodies because they don’t like to call for help. If they call for help it gives away their trail so they leave them behind and that’s the really big concerning part is not only are we seeing an increase in deaths but we know that is only a fraction of who is actually dying because they don’t to give away the trails or put themselves in jeopardy.”

Not only are we seeing an increase in deaths but we know that is only a fraction of who is actually dying because they don’t to give away the trails or put themselves in jeopardy.”

Joanna MacKenzie, Hudspeth County Administrator

U.S. Customs and Border Protection on Friday released June apprehension data for the Southwest border and noted an increase in migrant deaths in remote terrain, such as Hudspeth County.

“Smuggling organizations are abandoning migrants in remote and dangerous areas, leading to a dramatic rise in the number of rescues CBP performs,” CBP officials said in their report.

An empty coke bottle marks the location of a dead migrant found in June. (Photo by Hudspeth County Sheriff Arvin West)

Through June this fiscal year, CBP conducted 9,500 rescues nationwide, which is 81 percent higher than the total number of rescues in all of Fiscal Year 2020, according to the data released Friday.

A total of 120 rescue beacons have been placed throughout the Southwest border in areas like Hudspeth County that have lights and signage to help lost migrants. The agency also is deploying rescue placards that tell migrants how to dial 911 and give remote coordinates to help first responders find their location.

Graphic by CBP website

MacKenzie worries that a border enforcement initiative by Texas DPS and Gov. Greg Abbott’s office that is concentrated further southwest in the Del Rio region, could push migrants further west toward Hudspeth County.

And she said if Title 42 restrictions are lifted and Border Patrol agents from this region are extracted to help with border processing centers in the Rio Grande Valley or further south, she said the 17 full-time sheriff’s deputies in Hudspeth County could soon be overwhelmed with lost migrant cases that they will not be able to reach in time.

She said one rancher told her that a migrant stumbled onto his property a week ago and came across their dog’s bowl and put his face in the bowl and was lapping up the water because he was so dehydrated.

The county’s $12 million annual budget already has seen a drop in revenue of $1.5 million due to the pandemic, and first-responder resources utilized lately, she said.

“It’s very worrisome for our little county. We just can’t do it. We have limited resources,” MacKenzie said.

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