EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – It’s been the hottest year on record in El Paso, with 69 days at or above 100 degrees as of Sunday.
It has also been a deadly year for heat-related migrant deaths in the region. Fifty-eight of the 140 bodies encountered by U.S. Border Patrol agents or local law enforcement in the El Paso Sector since Oct. 1, 2022, were victims of the heat, the agency told Border Report on Monday.
Most of the heat-related fatalities are taking place just west of El Paso, in the desert of Southern New Mexico.
“We are currently recording a significant number of migrant deaths in New Mexico due to the desert terrain and extreme heat. Migrants do not have sufficient water and there is minimal shade,” the federal agency said in a statement in response to a Border Report inquiry.
The latest two fatalities involved females found in the desert on Saturday by the Sunland Park, New Mexico, Fire Department. The first woman was still alive when first responders performed CPR, but she died on the scene. Fire department personnel found the body of a second female near a cemetery and reported it as an “unattended” death.
It’s up to medical examiners in El Paso, Doña Ana, Luna, Hidalgo and adjoining counties to determine the individual cause of death. Federal officials, however, attribute the root of the problem to smugglers who misinform migrants about what to expect once they help them over the border wall.
“Transnational criminal organizations continue to recklessly endanger the lives of individuals they smuggle for their own financial gain. Smuggling organizations often abandon migrants in remote and dangerous areas, where severe heat, exposure, and miles of desert pose countless threats to migrants,” according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the Border Patrol’s parent agency.
In addition to the heat, falls from mountain terrain and other obstacles are leading to migrant deaths, as are drownings in canals running parallel to the border. “Migrants have the additional dangers associated with crossing the harsh desert and mountainous terrain, such as wild animals and the risk of serious injury or death from falls,” the Border Patrol statement said.
The agency has deployed 17 push-button “rescue beacons” and placed 500 rescue placards with a code to the geographic location throughout the desert. These devices guide first responders faster to migrants in need of assistance. Border Patrol El Paso Sector agents so far this year have conducted 503 rescues of migrants in distress.
Activist: Operation Lone Star driving more migrants to the desert
Long-time civil rights activist Carlos Marentes says the heat and desert terrain in Southern Arizona and South Texas have always claimed numerous migrant lives.
He believes increased enforcement in urban areas, particularly Texas’ Operation Lone Star, is pushing more migrants to make a dangerous entry through the desert west of El Paso.
“The wall, the arrival of the Texas National Guard, the surge of Department of Public Safety patrols, all of that is pushing people to the desert – a dangerous place where people put their lives at risk,” said Marentes, the executive director of the Border Farm Workers Center.
He said the smugglers certainly must share blame for the deaths, but “this militarization of the border, these anti-immigrant policies are leading to this.”
Marentes and other advocates are calling for a more open asylum processing system. Migrants must make online appointments at ports of entry through the CBP One app. That’s a process that may take months and some asylum seekers who run out of resources are just coming across the Rio Grande, risking denial and deportation.
The advocates also are calling for additional temporary visas for those who want to work in the U.S. and return to be with their families and improve their communities in Mexico and other countries where economic migrants are coming from.