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Confident they have jobs, migrants risk their lives to reach U.S.

Border Patrol agent takes three people into custody in El Paso.
Angela Kocherga
A Border Patrol agent in El Paso leads three people to a waiting van.

Migrants crossing the border put their lives in the hands of ruthless smugglers who lead them through rugged terrain, or into rushing water, in dangerous triple digit temperatures. Many people take the risk knowing they have a job in the U.S.

EL PASO –Along this stretch of the border the dangers for migrants are on display every step of the way -- from rugged terrain to rushing water.

Border Patrol agent Orlando Marrero drives along the edge of El Paso County just after dawn in an area where some people trek through Mount Cristo Rey walking rocky paths under the cover of darkness.

“ …and they can get easily injured since there’s low visibility. You won’t be able to see if there’s a cliff, a wash,” said Marrero during our recent ride-along through an area full of thorny mesquite and desert scrub brush.

During the day, the baking heat often hits triple digits and that can make even a twisted ankle deadly. Across Texas summer heat is claiming the lives of migrants.

The sweltering truck where 53 people died in San Antonio June 27th is just one reminder of the risks people face when they cross the border illegally. Yet, a huge number of migrants are trying with deadly consequences.

Border Patrol Headquarters did not respond to requests for the number of deaths border-wide and that data is not included on the website under “search and rescues,” which topped 14,000 from October through May.

Border Fence
Angela Kocherga
The steel border barrier in the El Paso region is 30 feet tall in some places. Migrants scaling the structure have been seriously injured or killed by falling off the fence.

An increasing number of people are seriously injured at the border fence in El Paso which is 30 feet tall in some places. Marrero says smugglers push migrants to use makeshift ladders to scale the steel structure.

“Once the migrant is at the top of the border barrier, they just take that away from them, take the ladder away from them and they’ll tell them ‘either slide down like a fireman or Spiderman or stuff like that or jump,’” he said.

In the El Paso area alone, University Medical Center of El Paso has treated at about a border wall injury a day for the last two years according to hospital officials. Along with head and spinal injuries there are broken bones.

“These are what we call open fractures. Bone is protruding through the skin. These are horrendous injuries that require surgeries,” said Dr. Alan Tyroch, trauma medical director for UMC El Paso.

He spoke at a recent press conference organized by Border Patrol to highlight the dangers for migrants.

Some people die from falls. The El Paso Sector is on pace to top last year’s deaths with 37 fatalities so far. Most are drownings in irrigation canals.

"The currents in the water are incredibly strong and pose a threat to any that enter," said El Paso Border Patrol Gloria Chavez. At the press conference in front of a stretch of border wall near near a canal filled with rushing water, Chavez warned people about the dangers.

"The canals are self-cleaning and pull down any debris that goes into those waters."

So far 15 migrants have drowned, most were pulled from the water in June.

Also at the June 27th press conference, Mexico's Deputy Consul General in El Paso, Ricardo Hernandez. He urged people in Spanish not to put their lives in the hands of smugglers.

This was just hours before dozens of migrants were found dead in the semi-truck in San Antonio.

“Remember, your family waits for you at home. Don’t risk it,” Hernandez said. Yet, despite the warnings, people do.

El Paso Border Patrol Chief at dangers of crossing the border press conference
Angela Kocherga
El Paso Border Patrol Chief Gloria Chavez details the dangers for migrants crossing the border at a press conference. Mexico's Deputy Council General Ricardo Hernandez in El Paso (on the left) also warned people not to risk their lives.

During our ride-along in early June, Border Patrol agents came across two women and a man walking through thorny brush near the border.

Agents in the El Paso sector alone pick up about one thousand migrants a day.

"They told me it wouldn’t be easy but I still dared,” said a 31-one-year old woman from Mexico City who declined to give her name.

The mother of four said she was coming to the U.S. to earn money to “give her children a better life.” She has a job waiting for her in Texas painting houses.

A man from Durango, Mexico who also did not want to give his name, says he was trying to join his wife and son in California. He also has a construction job lined up.

“If I arrive, if not, no.”

Migration from Mexico is again on the rise after declining for the past decade. More than 520,000, mostly single adults from Mexico have crossed the border from October through May according to U.S. Customs and Border Protectiondata.

There are several factors driving more Mexicans north again.

“One is: Mexico went through a deep economic crisis and is recovering slower than the United States and the U.S. economy is heating up, said Andrew Selee, president of the Migration Policy Institute.

The economic hardship caused by the pandemic in Mexico combined with the pandemic

pandemic health order, title 42, have led more Mexicans to try to reach the U.S. and return again if they are expelled.

“With Title 42, they’re simply being returned to Mexico without the threat of prosecution so there’s less risk for Mexican nationals to cross the border than before. Obviously there are risk in the journey itself.

While some are searching for work others are also fleeing violence in certain regions of Mexico.

Border Patrol agents took more than 1,440,414 people from various countries into custody from October through May. Many are individuals who crossed repeatedly, including non-Mexicans, sent to Mexico under the pandemic health order title 42.

Migrants are confident they have jobs waiting for them if they can make it across the border and smuggling organizations are cashing in on the labor shortage in the U.S.

Border Patrol Agent Carlos Rivera points to a pile of makeshift wire ladders near the border fence near south El Paso.

“By the 5th migrant that goes up it, it starts debilitating,” said Rivera. “Somebody’s going to fall, somebody’s going to hurt themselves.”

wire ladders near border fence
Angela Kocherga
Border Patrol agents collected this pile of flimsy, makeshift border ladders used to scale a nearby border fence in El Paso.

Criminal organizations are earning big profits as they cut corners and push people into dangerous situations or risky smuggling routes.

“It’s just a matter of treating them as a commodity and how much money they can get out of them,” Rivera said.

Agent Marrero says he tries to discourage migrants he takes into custody from trying to cross again.

“Paying with your life, that’s something that you don’t want to do.”