More migrants dying while crossing southern border as surge expected to worsen

Updated: Jun. 10, 2021 at 7:43 AM CDT
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(CNN) - Coronavirus infections among migrants crossing the border are one reason many more are dying this year than last year as they make the trek to the U.S.

The surge of migrants is expected to get worse.

The trek ended up being the end of the American dream for one man who authorities believe crossed the border on a raft, walked for five days and then ran out of water - his arms scratched by the brush.

For one 24-year-old woman, authorities say she drowned on the Rio Grande and had been in the water for three to five days.

They are two of more than 1,500 migrants who died on the Texas border since Dr. Corrine Stern started tracking the deaths after joining the Webb County Medical Examiner’s Office in 2007.

“Majority are heatstroke, hyperthermia or heatstroke and dehydration,” Dr. Stern said.

She tracks migrant deaths across these 12 south Texas counties and says this year has been deadlier than recent years.

“Typically our busiest months are July and August, and we are not even there yet,” she said.

Last year, by this time, 45 migrants had died on the border. This year, that number has nearly tripled to at least 128. And Dr. Stern says 30 percent tested positive for COVID, and in some cases considered a contributing factor in the deaths.

“I am saying this as a physician, there is a safer way to do it than coming across the border,” she added.

Despite the deadly dangers, the flow of migrants is also on track to surpass the 2019 crisis, which was the last time a migrant surge occurred, spurred mostly due to poverty and violence in Latin America.

In May alone, border authorities encountered around 180,000 migrants on the southwest border.

The current surge is in part driven by the misconception among migrants that the Biden administration was allowing migrant families with young children into the country.

Border Patrol’s Laredo Sector uses horse units to rescue migrants from some of the most remote locations.

According to Border Patrol Deputy Chief Carl Landrum, more than half of the nearly 8,000 migrant rescues conducted nationally have happened in the Laredo Sector.

To gear up for the most dangerous and deadly months of the year, the sector is deploying 13 beacons to help migrants call for help.

“This just takes it to a whole other level,” Landrum said. “Much more efficient. It’s all solar-powered, it’s never going to run out of power. It’s very, very visible, it’s very visible from different locations.”

The beacons came too late for some migrants.

One by one, the items of both the man and the woman are documented. All are clues about who they are and the dreams that were cut short.

“Even if you say to yourself, it’s worth my life. I’m willing to risk my life. Think about your family,” Dr. Stern said.

Despite the dangers, officials believe the surge of migrants will worsen.

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