SOUTH PADRE ISLAND, Texas (Border Report) — The U.S. Border Patrol and other federal maritime agencies on Monday simulated drowning rescues and smuggling arrests in the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico, which agents say is an increasingly popular way for migrants to try to cross into the United States.
Rio Grande Valley Sector Chief Patrol Agent Gloria Chavez said this year’s Border Security Event simulations focused on waterways because that’s how more migrants have been trying to illegally come into South Texas from Mexico.
“We are seeing a high number of people being smuggled through the waterways,” Chavez said after a 30-minute mock exercise held on the southern tip of this resort island just miles from the Mexico border.
Chavez says the sector is now averaging 1,000 apprehensions per day.
This is occurring just weeks before Title 42 is scheduled to lift on May 11. That’s the public health order that has been in place since March 2020 and allowed federal officials to immediately expel migrants to Mexico. Now, Title 8 is expected to be used more to deter migrant crossings.
But it appears migrants are massing south of the South Texas border and have begun trying to cross in large groups.
On Sunday, Chavez tweeted that over 1,600 migrants were apprehended in a 24-hour period in the Brownsville area.
“We’re continuing to exert all the efforts in preparation for the sunset of (Title 42), to come on May 11. We are also concerned about the month of May, and the fact that the summer months are approaching quickly. And we know that border safety is also very much in line with our border security efforts, because we run into migrants every day,” Chavez said in response to a question from Border Report.
This region is surrounded by the Rio Grande, the Gulf of Mexico, numerous canals and resacas, and she said many migrants drown or need to be rescued as they try to cross these bodies of water.
“It is a huge benefit for Border Patrol to partner and as well invest in the efforts of rescues in the water, because many people do succumb to that type of environment, thinking that they’re strong enough to swim across the river into the other side here at South Padre Island from the Boca Chica on the Brownsville side, and they end up sinking and drowning. So many of them are many times caught in a situation where the only people that are going to arrive there in time are going to be either Coast Guard, Air and Marine or Border Patrol agents from the Fort Brown station that oversee this region to be able to rescue them,” Chavez said during a 30-minute panel discussion following the simulations.
“So events like this, demonstrations like this prove to you the different types of tactics and preparation that our agents go through to increase border safety and security. But really, it’s about the sanctity of human life,” she said.
Boats, left simulated the water apprehension of migrant smugglers in the Gulf of Mexico, as Border Patrol agents, right, watched from South Padre Island, Texas, during simulation exercises on Monday, April 24, 2023. (Sandra Sanchez/Border Report Photos)
The demonstrations were held on a blustery and gray day after severe thunderstorms rolled through the Rio Grande Valley, turning the sea as gray as the sky.
Agents said despite the harsh weather, human smugglers still try to bring loads of migrants, as well as drugs across waterways. Oftentimes, they don’t make it.
Since Oct. 1, Border Patrol agents in the RGV Sector have rescued 150 people, and there have been 47 deaths, Chavez said.
Unlike previous years when these simulation exercises were done in thick brush country or remote areas, this is the first one done in the water.
Most sectors conduct Border Security Events, and the El Centro Sector in California has one planned next week east of San Diego.
The San Diego Sector has long had to prevent Mexican migrant boats from trying to come over the sea into the United States. But the RGV Sector has never emphasized this mode of entry for migrants. Most cross the Rio Grande, not the Gulf of Mexico.
The fact that Monday’s simulation event was held on the Gulf is further proof of the growing concern officials have of smugglers increasingly using the ocean here to bring in goods and people.
Last month, Border Patrol launched a water safety placard program to warn migrants in English and Spanish of the dangers of crossing waterways. Over 500 placards are being placed up and down the Rio Grande in the South Texas counties of Starr, Hidalgo and Cameron, where the island is located.
U.S. Coast Guard and CBP officials, as well as BORSTAR agents from the Border Patrol’s Search, Trauma, and Rescue Unit and the Office of Air and Marine were part of Monday’s simulation exercises.
During a panel discussion afterward, Mexican Consul General Juan Carlos Cue Vega, who is based in Brownsville, said the collaboration between U.S. and Mexican officials is necessary to stop drug smuggling and save migrant lives.
“We have been partners with Border Patrol. We have received a lot of help from them,” Cue Vega said. “The dialogue never stops. We continue to work (together.)”
He says the Missing Migrant Program involves officials from both sides of the border working with families to try to locate lost migrants.
“We will continue to do that,” he said, adding a warning to smugglers and migrants that they should not try to cross the border because Title 42 is ending.
“Do not think it easy to come to the United States because of the finishing of Title 42 and do not get involved in organized crime,” he said in response to a question from Border Report.