In a March 11 post, I reported on the spike in Border Patrol apprehensions in February, when they reached a 14-year high for that month. Further down in CBP's statistics was a sad but surprising one: CBP search-and-rescue efforts have reached 3,999 through the first five months of FY 2021. Lost in the stories about the border challenge/crisis/emergency is a question: Do Biden's border policies now have a body count? At least under a standard announced by Beto O'Rourke in June 2019, they do.
Search-and-rescue generally is required in three situations at the border: Migrants get lost in the desert and are able to signal for help; migrants get injured on their trek across the border and authorities are notified; or migrants attempt to cross a body of water (usually the Rio Grande, but not always) and start to drown, drawing attention.
All other things being equal, those 3,999 search-and-rescue efforts (carried out primarily if not exclusively by the Border Patrol) would project to 9,598 by year's end. Of course, not all things are equal, because we really have just begun the illegal migration season, which generally peaks from May into June before dropping in August.
I would expect the total for FY 2021 to be upwards of 10,000.
By comparison, there were 5,071 CBP search-and-rescue efforts in all of FY 2020, when migrants were attempting to enter illegally to evade the CDC Title 42 entry bar, which allowed CBP to simply expel aliens who crossed the border without permission or lacked proper travel documents.
That was up slightly from 4,920 in FY 2019, when a surge of migrants at the border caused a humanitarian and national security disaster. When CBP is on a pace to save more migrants than they did in that maelstrom, things are seriously bad.
Why do I say that? Consider the following Tweet from then-presidential candidate Robert "Beto" O'Rourke:
Trump is responsible for these deaths. https://t.co/UZirFjh3fm— Beto O'Rourke (@BetoORourke) June 26, 2019
Or this one, from then-presidential candidate Corey Booker:
We should not look away. These are the consequences of Donald Trump’s inhumane and immoral immigration policy. This is being done in our name. https://t.co/mZQnREOjV0— Cory Booker (@CoryBooker) June 25, 2019
Or this one from then-presidential candidate (and current vice president) Kamala Harris:
These families seeking asylum are often fleeing extreme violence. And what happens when they arrive? Trump says, 'Go back to where you came from.' That is inhumane. Children are dying. This is a stain on our moral conscience. https://t.co/NHly7QTiAq— Kamala Harris (@KamalaHarris) June 26, 2019
They all were in response to the same picture of a father and daughter, found dead on the banks of the Mexican side of the Rio Grande in Matamoros, which was reported by AP on June 26, 2019. FY 2019 was that kind of bad at the border.
Things plainly are not that bad now, or surely, you would guess, outlets like AP would be reporting on them. Guess again.
On March 8, the Washington Times ran an article captioned "Body count climbs at border as Biden policies bring migrant surge". That piece offers a number of different aspects of the situation at the border, but focuses on the recent experiences of Val Verde County (Texas) Sheriff Joe Frank Martinez.
Val Verde County is the home of the city of Del Rio, whose mayor recently broadcast an appeal to President Biden to stop releasing migrants in his city and its environs (which I discussed in a February 18 post). It's not home to much else, but that's fine because the locals seem to like it that way.
I know, because I went there in August 2017. On that trip, Sheriff Martinez took my son and me on a tour of some of the more desolate parts of the county (warning the loafer-wearing Arthur fils to beware of rattlesnakes because they bite at the ankles). The sheriff's a reserved and yet avuncular man — likely reserved because he has seen a lot of things, but avuncular because he plainly still cares.
He has seen a lot of bad of late, and told Stephen Dinan from the Times about it. A male Cuban national was discovered dead last week south of a weir dam on the Rio Grande. "He was identified by the passport." A suspected companion's body had not yet been found.
In early January, a 33-year-old female Haitian national was found drowned not far away. She was pregnant with twins, and her husband had been found earlier on the Mexican side of the river. She was found on January 8, 12 days before the inauguration, but by then, one could argue, the writing was on the wall.
Curiously, there was no AP reporting, let alone photographs, of the event. I would check Twitter to see what O'Rourke, Booker, or Harris had to say (they Tweet a lot); I am sure I would have heard about it. "A stain on the national conscience", like Duncan's blood on Lady MacBeth's hands, is not quickly washed away.
Announcing the grim news of the expectant mother's death, the CBP press release stated: "Since the beginning of Fiscal Year 2021 ... agents assigned to Del Rio Sector have recovered the bodies of 18 suspected illegal aliens who had recently entered or were attempting to illegally enter the United States."
That said, it is unfair to directly blame the president's campaign rhetoric for deaths that occurred before he took the oath of office. That does not exculpate Biden, however, of responsibility for the "15 migrant deaths in Texas in February ... seven of them ... due to the weather", reported in the Times. At least not under the "Beto O'Rourke standard".
Sheriff Martinez is "Frank" in more than just name. He told Dinan "it's time for the Biden administration to rethink its plans and come up with policies that will cut down the numbers." And he is right.
Border Patrol cannot save every migrant that falls into distress. But the administration can deter illegal entries, if it simply focuses on the loopholes in U.S. law that encourage migrants — and especially children and families — to tempt fate at the border.
The president doesn't have to believe me, but he should believe the bipartisan April 2019 "Final Emergency Interim Report" from Homeland Security Council's CBP Families and Children Care Panel. They made similar findings. If you have not read it, you should. If he hasn't read it, he should, too.
Should the administration fail to address the weaknesses in U.S. law that serve as a magnet drawing foreign nationals to enter the United States illegally, I will be writing a lot more about recoveries of human remains, rather than rescues of migrants in distress. I don't want to.
An unnamed Mexican official recently quoted in Reuters stated: "Migrants have become a commodity" for smuggling gangs. "But if a packet of drugs is lost in the sea, it's gone. If migrants are lost, it's human beings we're talking about." That is eminently self-evident.
Simply telling migrants "[t]hey need — they need to wait", as Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas did on March 1, is not a deterrent, or a life-saving strategy. In fact it's not a strategy at all.