South Texas heat deadly for illegal immigrants: officials

Reuters News
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Posted: Jul 19, 2011 11:23 AM

By Jim Forsyth

SAN ANTONIO (Reuters) - The U.S. Border Patrol is deploying search and rescue units in the south Texas brush country in response to an "alarming" spike in illegal immigrants dying due to triple digit temperatures, officials told Reuters on Tuesday.

"Cases of dehydration and heat exhaustion are way up," said Dan Milian, supervisory agent with the Border Patrol's Rio Grande Valley sector in Edinburg, Texas.

"We are seeing it with elderly people, young children, and all people who try to make it through the brush country in this heat."

Milian says two special units, BORSTAR, an elite Border Patrol search and rescue squad, and BORTAC, the equivalent of a SWAT unit, will begin scouring remote parts of rural south Texas where undocumented immigrants are most likely to experience distress, particularly near the sprawling King Ranch.

He says emergency beacons are also set up in prominent areas, and can be activated by illegals who experience difficulty.

Texas is suffering under a record-breaking drought and weeks of triple-digit temperatures -- conditions made much harsher in the dry, unforgiving brush.

"It's a hot summer, and we're trying to do what we can," Milian said.

Milian says 25 illegal immigrants have been found dead in the Rio Grande Valley sector since the start of the current fiscal year last October, and more than 120 people have had to be rescued after experiencing distress.

The "majority" of the deaths and rescues in the past two months have been due to heat exhaustion and dehydration, he said.

Smugglers who charge from $2,000 up to $10,000 per person to smuggle illegals from the Mexican border towns into the United States frequently tell their clients that the cities of Houston and San Antonio are "less than a day's walk away" from where they are dropped off, and there is abundant water, food and other resources available, Milian said.

When the immigrants find themselves in the harsh and uncompromising brush country, they quickly find that is not the case.

The Border Patrol is cooperating with the Mexican government and Mexican consulates around Texas to try to educate immigrants on the potential dangers of crossing illegally into the U.S. at this time of year.

"It's very different out there compared to the Rio Grande area terrain, "Milian said. "There are thousands and thousands of acres and it all looks the same.

"There is no way to gauge yourself if you're walking through there. There are no buildings, there are no street lights, there is no way to tell how far you're walking. It's very dangerous. If you go there unprepared, you're pretty much doomed."

(Editing by Karen Brooks and Jerry Norton)