Texas hard-line tactics putting migrant lives in danger, activists say

EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – Civil rights activists again are raising red flags after Texas and New Mexico firefighters on Tuesday rescued 54 imperiled migrants from the swelling waters of the Rio Grande.

The mass rescue in a portion of the river that meanders between Mexico, Texas, and New Mexico comes two weeks after four migrants drowned along the same stretch of water.
“We continue to be very concerned about the rising trend of migrant rescues and migrant deaths here in El Paso,” said Alan Lizarraga, a spokesman for the Border Network for Human Rights. “The deterrence policies we have at the border right now continue to push migrants to take very dangerous routes.”

BNHR on Wednesday staged a protest against some of those policies – Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s Operation Lone Star and state legislation (SB4) passed last year to empower police officers to demand a person’s immigration status.

Texas Army National Guard troops and Department of Public Safety troopers participating in Operation Lone Star patrol the Rio Grande near the Texas-New Mexico line where the rescues occurred. Military vehicles, razor wire, and soon a taller “anti-climb” wall prevent migrants from coming across.

Lizarraga said President Biden’s June executive order closing the border between ports of entry when daily illegal crossings reached 2,500 on average over a week compounded the situation. It placed migrants in the hands of smugglers. Migrant foot traffic has plummeted since early June, so the activist also questioned the need for Texas to add fencing and concertina wire.

“It’s very clear the governor continues to use our community as a political spectacle, as a way to create a false narrative about our community, painting our border as insecure and somewhere where there’s an invasion happening,” Lizarraga said. “Border walls have failed to address migration flows, address a broken immigration system, so all this is a political spectacle.”

Abbott set up Operation Lone Star in the middle of massive, unprecedented immigration surges and migrant releases from federal custody two years ago.

“Every week, Texas constructs more border wall to protect Texans and stop illegal immigration. Until Biden does his job and secures the border, Texas will continue to build our border wall,” Abbott tweeted last week.

Border Patrol blames cartels for migrant deaths

The U.S. Border Patrol says it began tracking the group that ended up stuck in the Rio Grande when Mexican smugglers sent them up Mount Cristo Rey on the New Mexico side.

The migrants – Mexicans, Hondurans, Salvadorans, Ecuadorans and, Dominicans ages 20 to 50 – had instructions to proceed to the Rio Grande and wait to be picked up by U.S. smugglers.

“We believe migrants are trusting their lives to transnational criminal organizations that tell them it’s a safe passage when in reality there are multiple legal consequences for crossing illegally and you can put your life in danger doing so,” said Border Patrol Spokesman Claudio Herrera.

He said fewer migrants are crossing the border nowadays. In the El Paso Sector, which runs from Hudspeth County, Texas, in the east to the New Mexico-Arizona state line in the west, border agents apprehend an average of 480 unauthorized migrants a day, Herrera said.

But the number of rescues has not mirrored the downward trend in traffic. On the contrary, the Border Patrol has rescued 740 migrants who fell, nearly drowned, or suffered dehydration since Oct. 1, 2023. That compared to only 360 from Oct. 1, 2022, to early July 2023.

"Migrants, at the end of the day, are going to be crossing wherever transnational criminal organizations tell them to do so. They don't know the area, they don't know the location," Herrera said. "Our advice hasn't changed for the migrant community and family members. Stop paying smuggling fees to make your family member come across the border illegally because you only put them in danger."

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