The Past Year Has Been Second-Deadliest for Migrants Crossing the Border

The Texas heat is partly to blame.

By Rhonda FanningAugust 18, 2016 11:16 am|

East Texas has seen multiple deadly downpours this year. Yet in south Texas, Brooks County Sheriff-elect Benny Martinez says he wants it to rain along the border to alleviate the unbearable heat.

“I’m hoping the rains continue,” Martinez said Monday. “I’m hoping we get a hurricane.”

The heat index down south was over 100 degrees for most of July, which has in part contributed to the hundreds of migrant deaths.

Kristian Hernandez, with the McAllen Monitor, says the sheriff’s bold statement comes from his experience with the effect the heat can have on migrants crossing the Texas-Mexico border.

“He’ll be out there almost on a daily basis recovering human remains, putting on gloves and doing it himself,” Hernandez says. “So he’s seen it.”

Hernandez reports that this year has been the second-deadliest year to date for migrants. The deadliest year was fiscal year 2013. Border Patrol reported recovering 600 remains or bodies, more than 50 percent of all reported deaths in the past 18 years.

Hernandez says the heat, combined with coyotes’ new ways of becoming invisible to authorities, are the main reasons for the rise in deaths. One way smugglers are adapting is through destroying migrant cell phones.

“They know a lot of the rescues were being done using the coordinates from the cellphones,” Hernandez says. “(Authorities will) find a stack or a pile of broken phones. The smugglers have been taking the phones from these migrants before they go on these journeys through the desolate ranchlands in south Texas.”

Smugglers’ seizing of cellphones is leaving migrants more helpless, Hernandez says. Smugglers are also carrying cellphones that can’t be easily tracked.

Hernandez says the desert has always been deadly – the heat, animals and terrain all pose dangers.

“We’ve done some of these rescues ourselves. We recovered a body just two weeks ago, myself and a co-worker,” he says. “It’s just brush, and everything looks the same. And everything will cut you or hurt you, and there’s animals out there that will attack you if you’re not careful. … I understand now why so many die and get lost out here.”

Post by Beth Cortez-Neavel.