Why Border Patrol Is Rescuing Migrant Families on the Rio Grande | NYT News

These are the banks of the Rio Grande

in Eagle Pass, Texas. On the other side is Mexico.

And a group of people from Central America

has just waded into the water to cross into the United States.

Some are carrying small children.

The river bed is uneven and the currents

are unpredictable.

Taking one wrong step could mean getting swept away.

Then, U.S. Border Patrol intervenes.

Scenes like this have recently become all too common,

here in the Del Rio border sector.

The number of migrants and asylum-seekers

making these risky river crossings

with children in tow has skyrocketed since last year.

They’re bypassing official ports of entry.

This one, just a few hundred meters away,

is backlogged, as are so many along the border.

But most of these families are not

trying to sneak past Border Patrol.

Instead, they’re seeking out agents

and surrendering themselves.

“I’ve been in this sector for a long time,

and we have not seen this before and it’s bad.

And it’s getting worse.”

Bryan Kemmett has been with Border Patrol

for over two decades.

“This area, right here, is ground zero.

This is where all the traffic comes from.

We can see the floatation devices

that they’re using.

You know, we’ve seen as many as nine people trying

to get into these little inflatable pools.”

Kemmett says agents historically

have seen single adults crossing the river here.

Now, it’s mostly families with younger and younger children.

He says Border Patrol resources are stretched thin.

“There’s a lot of care that has to be taken with families —

the feeding and changing the diapers

and making sure that everybody that

has to go to the hospital is taken to the hospital.”

Tending to families

has become a part of the agent’s daily routine.

“We have a job to do. We enforce the laws that Congress pass.

But we are also making sure that while we’re

enforcing the laws, the migrants are safe,

and if they become distressed, we quickly go to rescue mode.”

But they can’t always get to everyone.

Just a month ago, a raft crossing the river at night

overturned: A 10-month-old and a 7-year-old drowned.

Locals have captured images

of people struggling for their lives —

and bodies washing up on the river shore.

Border Patrol has counted seven drownings

since October.

But they say there could be more

that are unaccounted for.

“They got a kid with them.”

“They have a kid with them?”


“In the middle.”

“How young?”

“Probably like, 8?”

“You think we should pick them up?”


Carlos Reinaldo Farias is a vessel commander

in the Del Rio sector.

“I'm gonna get down river of them, O.K.?”

If he sees migrants in distress or with children

in the water,

his task is to rescue them.

“I'm gonna go in neutral, all right?”

Since October, there have already

been over 300 people rescued here, up from only 31

the year before.

That’s an increase of 900 percent.

“We're not chasing after people as much.

We’re helping people not succumb to the river.

And I think of my children.

And it kind of hurts a little bit.

And I’m not gonna lie, it kind of

gets me a little riled up because I understand

they want to come over,

but there’s right pathways to it.

And I don’t think anybody should be endangering

their child’s life like that.”

But Angel Gabriel said he and his family

had no other choice.

He said they fled Honduras

after being targeted by local police because of a complaint

he had filed against them.

Like others we spoke to,

they’ve come to claim asylum in the U.S.

But the current administration has restricted the number

of asylum-seekers who can come through official ports

of entry, and be processed daily.

In some places,

it can take months to get through

and some people say they can’t wait that long.

Angel said he and his family had been in Mexico since January

before deciding to make the treacherous trek

across the river.

After several days at a Border Patrol holding facility,

most families apprehended in the Del Rio sector

are released, here, at a new volunteer-run shelter.

Allan Ramon, and other locals here,

addressed the families basic needs

and help with the next leg of their journey:

joining relatives or friends in other parts of the U.S.

while they await a hearing.

These are just a handful of the hundreds of families

who arrive at the southern border each day,

and they are likely to keep coming,

despite the administration’s efforts to deter migration,

as long as they feel it’s riskier to stay at home

than to cross the river.