CBP Makes One Heroic Rescue, but Fights Unsuccessfully to Save a Child in Another

Crafting sensible policy is not ‘difficult’ — saving migrants is

By Andrew R. Arthur on March 30, 2021

On March 23, agents from CBP’s Air and Marine Operations branch made a heroic rescue in Resaca, Texas. Unfortunately, that was followed by news that Border Patrol agents could not save a nine-year-old migrant found unresponsive on an island on the Mexican side of the Rio Grande near Eagle Pass, Texas. This is the toll of the Biden administration’s immigration messaging, which is not as “mixed” as the administration thinks it is.

First, the good news. The crew of a CBP Blackhawk helicopter spotted six migrants — three adults and three infants — in distress in an isolated area of Resaca, near McAllen. There were no access roads, so the crew put the Blackhawk in a low hover and sent a team with a “crash axe” to clear a landing zone.

If you have never seen a Blackhawk, they are large aircraft. They have two forward wheels and one in the rear, and can carry 9,000 pounds. This one made a one-wheel landing in the clearing, picked up the six migrants, and carried them to Border Patrol on a nearby levee.

I am not overstating it when I say that jumping out of such a craft with an axe and retrieving three adults and three infants while four helicopter blades are whirling feet above your head is downright epic — especially when the copter is stabilized on one wheel. There is a lot that can go wrong, but failure’s not an option.

Which makes the Rio Grande rescue attempt all the more heartbreaking. Border Patrol Marine Unit agents on March 20 responded to a mother from Guatemala and her two Mexican-national children stranded on an island in the river.

When agents got there, the three were unresponsive, and the unit began administering first aid while transporting the trio to Eagle Pass Fire Department’s Emergency Medical Services. The nine-year-old did not respond, and was pronounced dead.

I have spoken to hundreds of Border Patrol agents. Most are fathers and mothers, and inevitably the conversations come back to our own children, their sports, schools, and activities. I wasn’t there, and the press release does not go into detail, but I can guarantee that when the agents were fighting for that child’s life, it was like saving — and losing — their own son or daughter.

In a March 12 post, I reported that CBP was on pace to make almost 9,600 such rescues this year — more than 26 per day, and 4,500 more than last fiscal year and in FY 2019. Illegal entry is dangerous, and the only way to lower the number of deaths is to discourage it.

The Biden administration’s efforts in that regard have been less than satisfactory, let alone heroic. Consider the following statement by then-border czar Ambassador Roberta Jacobson on March 10: “I think when you look at the issue of mixed messages, it is difficult at times to convey both hope in the future and the danger that is now. And that is what we’re trying to do.”

Respectfully, “difficult” is a word that brave people use to describe jumping from a Blackhawk with a crash axe, or that strong but compassionate people use while watching a child die in their arms. I have crafted policy myself. It’s not “difficult”.

For what it’s worth, implementing a policy that conforms campaign rhetoric to reality isn’t that difficult, either. When it comes immigration, and in particular to the border, the message needs to be clear and concise.

Here, I’ll help: “Credibility in immigration policy can be summed up in one sentence: those who should get in, get in; those who should be kept out, are kept out; and those who should not be here will be required to leave.”

The words are not mine, but those of a brave woman in her own right: civil-rights icon Barbara Jordan, then-chairwoman of the Commission on Immigration Reform, who made that statement 26 years ago in testimony before the House Judiciary Committee.

In this case, “those who should get in” are migrants who have actual asylum claims. That means complying with the written law, and applying the expedited removal process Congress has mandated for illegal migrants. They should be detained, and if they do not have a credible fear of persecution, they should be quickly deported. That is what “expedited removal” means.

If they are found to have a credible fear of persecution, they should be detained until an immigration judge can make a decision on their claims. Congress has mandated that, as well. See? Not “difficult” at all.

Instead, however, the administration is releasing migrants caught entering illegally without even giving them court dates.

That isn’t “mixed messaging” — would-be migrants are hearing it loud and clear, then responding as expected by entering illegally. Administration officials have left it to brave and compassionate agents to deal with the inevitable consequences after they have sent out that call, while they, from their lofty perches in Washington, get to the “difficult” work.