A ten month old infant died and several more went missing when an inflatable raft overturned on the Rio Grande river as smugglers attempted to cross the river from Mexico to the U.S. with migrants on Wednesday night, according to CNN.
“Unfortunately some of those were swept away when the raft turned over,” a Department of Homeland Security official said. Others were rescued by Border Patrol agents.
According to NPR, Border Patrol came into contact with a 27-year-old Honduran man who told them he was on a raft that capsized alongside his family and several others. His wife, their 10 month old infant, 6-year-old son, and 7-year-old nephew were swept away.
The 10 month old was found dead several miles downriver. The 6-year-old and the man’s wife were rescued, and the child was rushed to the hospital, according to Customs and Border Protection.
The 7-year-old has not been found. Another girl of unknown age is also missing.
“It highlights that last year, we, CBP were involved in the rescues of over 4,300 individuals,” acting Customs and Border Protection Commissioner John Sanders said in a statement. “Transnational criminal organizations are ruthless.”
DHS says the current situation at the river is “fluid.” They are working with survivors to identify the three missing.
After the raft overturned, officials say agents heard “screams coming from the river” that “turned out to be from individuals who were stranded and struggling to stay afloat.”
“The Rio Grande is a dangerous river, it looks calm, but it has resulted in a number of rescues and deaths over the years and is one of the main ways in which migrants are at risk from the terrain and natural barriers that exist as they travel north,” a DHS official told CNN.
“Water rescues are up significantly this year compared to last year,” the official added. The official told CNN that there have been more than 200 water rescues so far this year.
“It’s tragic,” the official added.
“What we’re dealing with now is senseless tragedy,” Del Rio Sector Chief Patrol Agent Raul L. Ortiz in a statement Thursday. “The men and women of the U.S. Border Patrol have been doing everything in their power to prevent incidents like this. And yet, callous smugglers continue to imperil the lives of migrants for financial gain.”
It’s a bit misleading to blame migrant deaths solely on cartels and smugglers. The number of migrants who die during border crossings, once fairly low, skyrocketed in the late ‘90s after the U.S. instituted its “Prevention Through Deterrence” policy that blocked crossings in safer urban areas. Border Patrol admitted that it would use the increased danger of crossing the border, and the possibility of death, to dissuade those who are considering the journey. Border Patrol now says that 7,209 migrants have died crossing the border since 1998. but the real numbers may be much higher.
Even after migrants arrive in the U.S., their safety is hardly guaranteed. Yesterday, a 16-year-old boy from Guatemala died in U.S. custody. He is the third child to die in government custody since December. The cause of death isn’t known.