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Customs and Border Protection sees increase in migrant rescues as temperatures rise

Updated: May. 13, 2021 at 5:35 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) -In April 2021 alone, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) said crews encountered more than 178,000 people trying to cross along the southwestern border. As migrant crossings rise, and the temperatures outside do too, officials are begging people to not cross into the desert during the summer.

CBP has conducted nearly 30 rescues this year alone by air—nearly 6,000 nationwide for all types of rescues. When rescues are on the ground in the Tucson sector, Jonathan Elledge and his K9 are some of the first on the scene. They typically administer IV fluid since most people who need help are dehydrated.

“We always have busy summers,” said Jonathan Elledge, an agent with BORSTAR Tucson search and rescue. “It’s our busiest time of year.”

The heat brings loss along the border. Elledge remembers they were sent to a rescue just minutes away.

“In that ten minutes, by the time we had shown up on scene, it was too late,” he said.

CBP is gearing up for summer, with a flight crew on standby, and deploying more help placards that tell people to call 911 and give a record locator for rescuers.

They have already placed around 30 in the desert and are hoping to do more. They warn people to call 911 if you need help, and to stay where you are. CBP is also using a new type of help beacon. People can press a button and rescuers will be on their way.

In the past, while immobile, the beacons were difficult to move and shift throughout the desert to more popular routes migrants take. Now, equipped with wheels and a lighter body, the beacon can be moved quickly with a regular truck. They hope these small changes will make a big impact in saving lives.

However, CBP has a simple message for those looking to cross the southern border during the summer.

“Don’t do it. The desert is vast, and it is treacherous,” said Sabri Dikman, acting deputy chief patrol agent for the Department of Homeland Security.

CBP is also gearing up for more air rescues with a crew on standby equipped with basic medical needs and an EMT. John Russell, an aviation enforcement agent, often repels from the helicopter to save lives or operates the hoist machine. He said his job has never been busier, or more dangerous, recently helping to save a man stuck on a mountain peak.

“Rescues have definitely increased,” Russell said. “We’re putting ourselves at the highest risk to try and help these people out on a daily basis.”

Since October 2020, CBP said they have rescued more than 5,700 people—about 500 more than all of the last fiscal year combined. So far this year, they have conducted nearly 30 air rescues, about half of which required the use of the hoist.

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