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Sunday, May 26, 2024

Bodies of 2 migrants, including 3-year-old boy, found in Rio Grande

Washington — Texas state officials this week recovered the bodies of two migrants, including a 3-year-old child, who are believed to have drowned while attempting to cross the U.S. southern border, where illegal crossings have soared to near-record levels in recent days.

On Wednesday, the Texas Department of Public Safety located a 3-year-old migrant boy in the Rio Grande, near the border town of Eagle Pass, after receiving reports of a child being “swept away” by the river’s current, according to agency spokesperson Ericka Brown. The toddler, who officials said was traveling with his family, was pronounced dead at a local hospital.

On Thursday morning, Texas state troopers in Eagle Pass observed another body submerged in the Rio Grande, Brown said, noting that the Maverick County Sheriff’s Office was investigating the death. The sheriff’s office did not immediately respond to a request for more information.

Both bodies, Brown added, were found north of the floating barriers Texas set up in the Rio Grande to deter migrant crossings. A federal judge earlier this month ordered Texas to move the buoys to the riverbank, finding that a lawsuit filed by the Biden administration was likely to prevail in court. But a federal appeals court paused that ruling while it reviews the case, allowing Texas to keep the marine barriers in place.

Democratic lawmakers, advocates and the Biden administration have argued that Texas’ buoys endanger migrants by forcing them to swim through deeper parts of the river where the chances of drowning are greater. But Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott has said the barriers are needed to deter illegal entries, in light of what he has deemed to be insufficient federal action to secure the southern border.

The apparent drownings this week illustrate the often deadly perils faced by migrants who cross into the U.S. In recent years, migrant deaths have reached record high levels along the southern border, which the United Nations has labeled “the deadliest land border” in the world. Heat exposure has been the number one cause of migrant deaths along the U.S. southern border in recent years, followed by drownings.

In fiscal year 2022, U.S. Border Patrol recorded more than 850 migrant deaths, according to internal agency data obtained by CBS News. That figure, which surpassed the 546 deaths recorded in fiscal year 2021, is likely an undercount, officials and experts said, due to incomplete data. In a report earlier this year, a federal watchdog found that Border Patrol did not collect and record “complete data on migrant deaths.”

The all-time high in recorded deaths along the U.S.-Mexico border has coincided with record levels of migrant crossings. In fiscal year 2022, Border Patrol recorded 2.2 million migrant apprehensions, a record high that is on track to be matched in fiscal year 2023, which ends at the end of September.

There has been a sharp increase in migrants, the majority of whom are from Venezuela, crossing the Rio Grande near Eagle Pass in recent weeks. In total, there has been an average of about 6,900 daily southern border crossings in the month of September.

On Wednesday, the Biden administration announced that it would make nearly half-a-million Venezuelans who have come into the U.S. over the past two years eligible for the Temporary Protected Status program, which provides them with work permits and deportation protections.

However, the Venezuelans coming across the border this week will not be eligible for TPS, as the expansion will only apply to those who entered prior to July 31.

In the border city of Juarez, Mexico — located just across from El Paso — CBS News on Thursday found many risking those final steps north, including one group of people from Venezuela who used tree limbs as a bridge to get to the other side of the Rio Grande.

Sometimes they would fall in, many struggling to handle children and babies as they traversed the river.

Manuel Bojorquez contributed reporting.

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