EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – Migrant deaths more than doubled in the last 12 months in the El Paso region, amid record-setting heat and U.S. Border Patrol encounters.
The El Paso Sector that runs from Hudspeth County, Texas, to the New Mexico-Arizona state line recorded 149 migrant fatalities and 597 rescues from Oct. 1, 2022, to Sept. 30, 2023. That compares to 71 deaths and 493 life-saving interventions in fiscal year 2022, according to updated data released by the Border Patrol on Tuesday.
Heat-related deaths rose dramatically from one year to the next. A total of 60 migrants died of heat stress-related conditions in FY 2023, compared to only 19 the previous year. That coincided with El Paso recording 70 days with triple-digit heat, including 33 in which temperatures rose above 105 degrees, according to KTSM.
The record number of deaths also coincides with an unprecedented number of migrant apprehensions in the region. The El Paso Sector led the nation during FY 2023 in apprehensions between ports of entry, with 427,471, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection data.
Most of the fatalities took place across the state line in the desert of Southern New Mexico, one of the largest corridors for migrant smuggling in the United States.
At one point this summer, transnational criminal organizations were telling migrants to cross during the hottest hours of the day. The pitch included false information that Border Patrol agents don’t like to go out in extreme heat, agency officials told community members earlier.
“Vulnerable migrant populations, adults and children, are persuaded by criminal human smugglers who have no regards for people’s well-being,” a federal official told Border Report. “Migrants are deceived by ‘foot guides’ who assure them the journey across the border will be short and easy. […] Extremely low or high temperatures combined with treacherous terrain quickly deteriorates the health of any human being.”
The large number of fatalities this week prompted U.S. Rep. Gabe Vasquez, D-New Mexico, to draft the Stop Coyotes Oppression and Organized Trafficking Act, which mandates an additional 10-year prison sentence for smugglers and cartel leaders who harm migrant minors.
“One of the things I’ve heard loud and clear is that this network of human traffickers, of coyotes, as we know them down here […] that are causing unspeakable suffering for the migrants who are coming here and are taking advantage of people have to be held accountable,” Vasquez said Monday in Santa Teresa, New Mexico.
Advocates blame deaths on ‘militarization’ of border
The grim tally saddens and upsets some migrant advocates who blame at least some of the deaths on federal and state immigration enforcement that forces migrants ineligible for asylum to put their lives in the hands of smugglers.
The Border Network for Human Rights plans a Day of the Dead vigil this Thursday in El Paso to protest those policies and honor human beings who died in pursuit of the American dream.
“Make no mistake, the rise in migrant deaths is neither circumstantial nor purely accidental, but due to the ill-conceived border enforcement strategies and operations happening at our southern border,” said Fernando Garcia, executive director of BNHR. “On one side of the border you find armed soldiers, staged military vehicles and concertina wire. On the other side, you see pregnant women, children and entire families trying to reach safety and refuge.”
A procession begins at 5 p.m. Thursday at Sacred Heart Church in South El Paso – where thousands have gathered during the course of the year to seek shelter – and ends at Chihuahuita Park at 417 Charles Road, within sight of the U.S. border wall.
Garcia said Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has brought added tension and cruelty to the border through Operation Lone Star. The 2-year-old initiative has surged Texas Department of Public Safety troopers and deployed the Texas Army National Guard to the border.
“The cruelty of Operation Lone Star has no limit and is not only affecting our migrant and refugee communities but thousands of Texas border residents, many of whom are American citizens,” Garcia said, citing frequent high-speed pursuits that often result in fatalities.
Abbott has doubled down on Operation Lone Star, which he says is helping keep Texans safe in the face of a Biden administration that is not doing its job on immigration enforcement, by getting the Texas Legislature to approve funding for another two years.