As I noted in September, the U.N. has declared the Southwest border the “world’s deadliest migrant route” — a dubious distinction to be sure, but one America’s most popular illegal entry pathway is likely to hold for at least another year, as reports indicate that there were 148 fatalities in the Border Patrol’s El Paso sector in FY 2023 — blowing away prior years’ totals. “Advocates and academics” blame fences and checkpoints, but the real fault rests squarely on the president — and his “progressive” migrant release policies. Perhaps some focus on those deaths will be a wake-up call for the White House.
El Paso Sector. Agents in the Border Patrol’s El Paso sector — like most on the Southwest border — have a big job, with jurisdiction over 125,500 square miles, including two Texas counties (Hudspeth and El Paso) and all of New Mexico, but most importantly, 268 miles of the U.S.-Mexico line.
At the end of FY 2020 — the last time CBP released staffing statistics — the sector was patrolled by 2,256 agents.
That may seem like a lot, but when you consider all of the time agents spend rounding up, transporting, processing, caring for, and — as explained below, usually releasing — illegal entrants, they could use a whole lot more.
As is, they apprehended nearly 390,000 illegal crossers in the first 11 months of FY 2023, a 26 percent increase over all of FY 2022, double total apprehensions there in FY 2021, and more than 6 times as many as in FY 2020. Keep those apprehension statistics in mind.
“More Migrants Die in U.S. Desert”. The fatality statistics I cited above are from an October 13 Reuters article captioned “No shade, no water, and record heat: More migrants die in U.S. desert”. It’s an enlightening read, as much for what it doesn’t say as for what it does.
According to Reuters, 60 deaths were attributable to heat and exposure in a sector that includes wide — and rural — expanses of the Chihuahuan Desert. It was an exceptionally hot summer even by Southwest border standards, with temperatures clocking in at 100 or above for 44 straight days in El Paso.
Once you add in drownings and car wrecks, the death toll rises to 148 last fiscal year (FY 2024 started on October 1). The number of deaths could have, and almost definitely would have, been higher had agents there not made 597 migrant rescues in FY 2023.
More migrants likely could have been saved, had they had any awareness at all. As the El Paso Times explains: “All summer, law enforcement agencies and first responders were called to coordinates near backyards and businesses, as people died seemingly within reach of rescue.”
The Times also reports that the 148 deaths in El Paso sector in FY 2023 more than doubles the total of 71 in FY 2022. The trendline is going in the wrong direction, because according to that outlet: “Before fiscal 2022, the sector recorded as few as one and no more than 40 deaths each year dating back to 1998”.
“Migrant Advocates and Academics Have Said ...”. Reuters references “migrant advocates and academics” who “have said for years that policies like increased fencing and checkpoints, intended to deter those aiming to cross illegally into the U.S., push migrants to take increasingly perilous routes to evade detection”. Is that true?
Demonstrably not. There has been border fencing in El Paso for as long as I can remember, and 131 miles of it had been completed in El Paso sector by January 2021 — when the Biden administration put a “pause” on all infrastructure construction at the Southwest border.
In other words, border deaths were much lower — somewhere around a third of what they were in FY 2023 — when border wall construction was ongoing, and if completed fencing was the cause, why would deaths have doubled between FY 2022 and FY 2023 when no new fencing was added?
As for checkpoints, I have been down to the border a number of times lately and have found them to be hit-or-miss affairs. When there were agents to spare, they were open; otherwise checkpoints that had been there for years were shuttered. And nothing suggests that the Biden administration has opened any new ones.
The Biden Administration Has “Effectively Incentivized” What It Calls “Irregular Migration”. Plainly, the summer heat has played a role in the surge in migrant deaths at the Southwest border, but rather than consulting “migrant advocates” (whose opinions by definition are tendentious) and “academics”, perhaps Reuters could compare Border Patrol apprehension statistics to fiscal year deaths — and review one key federal court ruling.
As noted, Border Patrol’s FY 2023 apprehensions in El Paso sector were 600 percent higher than they were in FY 2020 (when there were just 10 migrant deaths there, according to CBP statistics). Could there be a correlation between illegal entries and deaths? Well, take a look at the following two figures and see for yourself:
Figure 1. El Paso Border Patrol Sector Apprehensions, by Fiscal Year
Source: CBP statistics.
Figure 2. El Paso Border Patrol Sector Migrant Deaths, by Fiscal Year
Sources: CBP statistics, El Paso Matters, El Paso Times
That strongly suggests that an increase in illegal entries is to blame for the surge in migrant deaths — not “increased fencing and checkpoints”.
So why are so many migrants entering illegally ever since FY 2021? I don’t need to speculate because U.S. district court Judge T. Kent Wetherell II has already looked at all the evidence and concluded in his March opinion in Florida v. U.S. that it’s because the Biden administration has:
effectively incentivized what they call “irregular migration” that has been ongoing since early 2021 by establishing policies and practices that all-but-guaranteed that the vast majority of aliens arriving at the Southwest Border who were not excluded under the Title 42 Order would not be detained and would instead be quickly released into the country where they would be allowed to stay (often for five years or more) while their asylum claims were processed or their removal proceedings ran their course — assuming, of course, that the aliens do not simply abscond before even being placed in removal proceedings, as many thousands have done. [Emphasis added.]
Florida was a case brought by the state of Florida challenging the Biden administration’s (illegal, as the court later held) migrant release policies, and before Judge Wetherell reached those conclusions, he had received more than a year’s worth of arguments and briefings — plus reams of evidence — from both Florida and the administration.
His conclusions are not the idle musings of a thinktank pundit, let alone the opinions of “advocates” and “academics” — they are, for all intents and purposes, the law. Migrants have been arriving illegally in increasing numbers since Joe Biden became president because they know they’re going to be allowed to stay, and the more migrants who come illegally, the more border deaths there will be. Period.
“It’s Not Just Mexican Nationals Trying to Cross; You Have Many Different Countries of Origin”. My statement above, “More migrants likely could have been saved, had they had any awareness at all”, might have sounded harsh, like I was blaming the migrants themselves for their deaths, but that was not my intent. In fact, at least one local cop underscored the connection between those migrants’ familiarity with the area’s conditions and their unfortunate fates.
Here is the full quote from the El Paso Times:
All summer, law enforcement agencies and first responders were called to coordinates near backyards and businesses, as people died seemingly within reach of rescue.
"It's not new, but it's a big topic and it's more numbers," said El Paso Sheriff's Office Cmdr. Robert Rojas. "Because it's not just Mexican nationals trying to cross; you have many different countries of origin. It's possible that they don't know the terrain, the climate or what they are coming into."
Cmdr. Rojas plainly knows what he’s talking about. In FY 2020, nearly 44 percent of all migrants apprehended in El Paso sector were Mexican nationals, while almost 24 percent were from the “Northern Triangle” countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras — roughly 68 percent in total.
Through the first 11 months of FY 2023, by comparison, more than half of those apprehended by El Paso sector Border Patrol agents were neither Mexican nationals, nor nationals of those three Northern Triangle countries. Almost 31 percent of the total weren’t even from Central America, coming from as far away as China (173), Russia (617), Turkey (6,132), and Venezuela (53,812).
Lest you think that anything south of Austin is “tropical”, there’s a big difference between Caracas and the deserts of New Mexico (where astronauts were trained to help them “identify lunar geological features”), let alone between Lordsburg, N.M. , and Beijing, Moscow, or Istanbul.
Those same “progressive” Biden administration migrant release policies that Judge Wetherell blamed for the massive increase in “irregular migration” generally are also the reason why so many non-Mexican, non-Northern Triangle migrants are showing up illegally now. President Biden has put out a welcome mat to the world at the Southwest border, drawing people globally to enter — at their peril.
If the crushing fiscal impacts of its migrant-release policies on cities like New York and Chicago aren’t enough to force the Biden administration to see the inhumanity of its actions, maybe some focus on the tragic surge in border deaths will. Or perhaps the White House will continue to listen to the “advocates” and “academics” who tell it what it wants to hear. Bet on the latter.