EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – The drowning of a Guatemalan girl in the Rio Grande this week was but the latest tragedy in a region where migrant deaths are on track to double compared to last year.
Margareth Sofia Garcia, 5, died on Monday after she got separated from her mother while the two attempted to wade across the Rio Grande to El Paso, Mexican officials said. It was the 21st death of a migrant in a body of water in the region since Oct. 1. The other 20 took place north of the border, in bodies of water in the El Paso Sector of the U.S. Border Patrol. The rest of the fatalities are attributed to extreme heat or cold, falls from hills or the border wall, and motor vehicle accidents.
The Border Patrol has carried out 443 migrant rescues in the sector this fiscal year, with a toll of 63 fatalities. In the full fiscal year 2021, border agents conducted 688 rescues but reported only 39 deaths in El Paso and southern New Mexico.
Officials on both sides of the border on Thursday blamed smugglers for the deaths.
“(Smugglers) are abandoning migrants in remote and dangerous areas, leading to a rise in the number of rescues, but also a tragic rise in the number of deaths,” said Landon Hutchens, a spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection. “The terrain along the border is extreme, the summer heat severe and the miles of desert migrants must hike after crossing the border in many areas are unforgiving. Despite these dangers, smugglers continue to lie to migrants claiming the borders are open.”
In Juarez, Mexican officials a few years back placed warning signs along the river levee and are holding talks at shelters and at the Migrant Assistance Center warning newcomers about the dangers of crossing the Rio Grande and the fast-flowing American irrigation canals on the north side of the border wall.
“This is an issue of great concern among the three levels of government in Mexico – the safety of these people who are desperate to get into the United States,” said Enrique Valenzuela, head of the Chihuahua Population Council that supervises the Migrant Assistance Center. “There are warnings along the levee, and we constantly tell (the migrants) they should not risk the lives of themselves and their families trying to cross the river, as it happened in this case (the 5-year-old Guatemalan girl) and other cases.”
Valenzuela concurs that smugglers are failing to tell migrants about river currents or the canals on the other side of the wall.
“We are constantly telling people not to trust in smugglers, not to trust in those who are only trying to make money from them,” he said. “We will continue to be vigilant to provide attention and relief to persons trying to achieve a better life.”
Valenzuela estimates the population of migrants staying in Juarez waiting for a chance to cross into the United States at 12,000 – a bit down from May’s high of 15,000-plus. However, he said new arrivals are picking up.
“There is a false perception of Title 42 going away. We want to tell migrants to be well-informed before making any decision. Title 42 is still in place; the U.S. has not opened its borders” to asylum seekers, he said.