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El Paso border agents say latest migrant surge is deadlier than ever

EL PASO, Texas -- The number of undocumented immigrants injured or dying as they try to cross into the U.S. is much higher than during the last migrant surge in 2019.

According to U.S. Border Patrol numbers, in 2019 agents saw a total of five migrant rescues. That number went up in 2020 to 40 rescues.

But in 2021, agents have rescued as many as 200 migrants. And the fiscal year isn't over yet.

To get a better look at what is happening to migrants this year versus pervious year, ABC 7 spoke with Border Patrol agents who are also Emergency Medical Technicians, or EMTs.

ABC-7 was with Border Patrol agents on an actual apprehension in a Sunland Park neighborhood of six migrants from Guatemala and Ecuador. The group crossed through the mountains where a Border Patrol agent tracked them, and alerted fellow agents, who waited for them once they descended.

One migrant told ABC-7's Saul Saenz that he was thirsty and the group ran out of water. He says the group would come across water bottles with very little water, but were forced to drink it or suffer dehydration.

All six were loaded onto a Border Patrol truck. Once the doors closed, a migrant screamed out he wanted water. Agents ready to help with that precious life-saving liquid, handed over two bottles of water for all six.

"The El Paso sector year-to-date has had a total of 187 rescues. And that's just as of October 2020," said Supervising Border Patrol Agent Richard Barragan.

Agents have also seen migrant deaths - migrants who either plunged from the border barrier to their death, or got stuck on the barrier like a pregnant woman recently rescued near downtown El Paso.

Some migrants have drowned in the canals, or collapsed from dehydration, like migrants whose bodies were found recently in the desert behind a Santa Teresa cemetery.

In the El Paso sector, which covers El Paso and all of New Mexico, 135 Border Patrol agents are trained to provide medical care and certified as EMTs and even paramedics.

"We try to put our best foot forward to save these migrant's lives and transition from law enforcement to life-saving efforts," said Barragan.

Barragan noted that in 2019, families with children would turn themselves over to agents requesting asylum.

Now this year, he believes smugglers and cartels are encouraging undocumented immigrants to take risks and avoid the agents, opting to flee.

"After being sent over and made the promise from these migrant smuggling organizations, that it's safe, the water is not dangerous, that it's easily crossable and in fact it's not. So they're lying to these individuals and charging them thousands of dollars - or come over and all of it in the pursuit of the American dream," added Barragan.

Barrgan and other EMT-trained agents carry with them life-saving tools so they are to respond to migrants' medical needs.

"The first thing that we focus on is 'are they breathing? Are they conscious?' And if they're not, of course we have techniques and equipment that we use - such as automated external defibrillators."

And if migrants require medical attention the agents cannot provide, Barragan says a medical helicopter is called in to fly that migrant to a nearby hospital.

Article Topic Follows: Border

Saul Saenz

El Paso native Saul Saenz is a veteran reporter who also hosts ABC-7 Extra.

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