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Special Report: Mounted Border Patrol

SIERRA BLANCA, Texas -- The Borderland is accustomed to watching apprehensions along the border, sometimes very close to home.

But migrant encounters extend to our neighbors in Hudspeth and Culberson counties, areas where roads and trails vanish into arroyos, mountain cliffs and thorny brush as far as the eye can see.

This area is accessible to Border Patrol Agents on horseback, who make hundreds of encounters monthly, either finding migrants alive or dead.

Riding horseback in the open country may sound therapeutic to many, but for agents, it's their job to patrol the border riding four-legged partners.

ABC-7 went along on a common patrol where agents make those encounters on terrain no longer accessible to many vehicles.

“Transnational criminal organizations will utilize routes that put the lives in danger, these migrants. So there are certain areas where it makes it difficult for us to patrol.  You know our horse patrol agents are able to access those areas and make the apprehension or make rescues, which we do a lot of rescues in this Big Bend sector,” said Border Patrol Agent Jose Grajeda.

The horses come from the Bureau of Land Management. Whereas horses may be a nuisance in other states, BLM gives them over to Border patrol, who re-purpose them to patrol rough terrain.

Agents keep one eye on the terrain to protect their horses from dangerous surprises that can spook their partner, like snakes, and another eye on signs migrants crossed through the area.

Agents say they make an average of 40 to 50 apprehensions a day.

But the lifting of Title 42 is expected to trigger yet another surge of crossings from Santa Teresa to the Big Bend sector.

“The rough terrain here in West Texas exposes them to the elements, exposes them to unpredictable weather, the risk of being left behind by reckless smugglers." said agent Grajeda.
“There are, have been unfortunate deaths here and rescues,” he added.

Rescues and recoveries.

Hudspeth County sheriffs shared pictures of migrants left behind: victims of either heartless smugglers or the cold landscape, which many have described as a massive cemetery.

Agents hope distressed migrants put beacons to use, alerting agents that they are in desperate need of help.

Agents and Hudspeth County deputies have found bodies of migrants holding onto empty water bottles, victims of either dehydration or wildlife.

Agents on horseback look for tracks along the arroyo. “See right there, that’s what you’re looking for.” said one agent.

To the untrained eye, the print looks like a disturbance in the dirt. To an agent, it is a set of tracks they've identified as human tracks.

Agents followed the trail up and down hills that only a workhorse could navigate. Agents did spot a set of tracks. And they followed those tracks up to a barbed wire fence. Now agents believe those migrants might’ve hopped that fence and continued north.

Agents say migrants who make it to the railroad tracks have been known to hop on trains heading north.

They say migrants who have evaded capture likely hid in areas vehicles can't reach.

That's why the agency relies on transportation Border Patrol has relied on since it was founded in 1924: horseback.

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Saul Saenz


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