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  4. CBP Access | March 2022

CBP Access | March 2022

“When someone is in distress, their safety and well-being come before their citizenship, nationality, or immigration status. The same resources used for border security are immediately directed to those in need.”

– Robert Sellers, Supervisory Marine Interdiction Agent, Air and Marine Operations

CBP Access is an electronic newspage developed by the Office of Congressional Affairs for Members of Congress and staff. If you are interested in subscribing to the CBP Access email distribution list, please send an email to

The human smuggling business is all about profit. Human smugglers or “coyotes,” who promise people that they will safely guide them to a destination, often abandon their human cargo at some point, leaving them to fend for themselves and continue their illegal and dangerous journey with insufficient supplies and information. The terrain and weather conditions along our Nation's expansive Southwest and Northern Borders, as well as our sea approaches, make already risky crossings even more treacherous. 

Along the Southwest Border, individuals attempt to cross vast stretches of desert, unforgiving mountain terrain, or the swift and unpredictable Rio Grande. Along the Northern Border, winter can bring sub-zero temperatures and blizzard conditions to the remote plains, lakes, and woods.  Both border regions experience dramatic and unpredictable temperature changes year-round, meaning individuals lost or left behind in desolate areas are at risk of dehydration, heat stroke or hypothermia, or death. Smugglers will guide or direct vulnerable individuals and families along dangerous routes to avoid CBP detection, but instead risk their lives.

CBP is the Nation’s border security agency, charged with enforcing our laws and stopping dangerous people and substances from entering the United States; however, the equipment, technology, and dedicated personnel that that secure our borders also serve to rescue people from dangerous situations and save lives.

Responsible for securing the land and sea borders between official ports of entry, CBP’s U.S. Border Patrol (USBP) and Air and Marine Operations (AMO) saved more than 13,000 people conducting rescue operations in fiscal year 2021. Regardless of the terrain, weather conditions, or remote location, USBP and AMO agents are committed to these humanitarian efforts and are prepared and equipped to rescue those in distress. 

This month’s CBP Access shares some of CBP’s recent search and rescue efforts and the USBP and AMO agents who put their own safety at risk to save lives. I also invite you to read CBP’s Frontline magazine feature articles, Answering the Call and Saving Lost Migrants, for more information.

–Stephanie Talton, Deputy Assistant Commissioner

Arizona  |  CBP Rescues Individuals from the Baboquivari Mountains, Sabino Canyon, and Sand Dunes near Yuma

AMO hoist injured migrant into helicopter
An injured migrant is airlifted by AMO and USBP teams. 
CBP File Photo
Injured man airlifted by AMO crew
An AMO crew extracts an
injured man from Sabino

On March 11, the USBP Arizona Air Coordination Center (A2C2) received a call from the Tohono O’odham Police Department requesting assistance with two migrants in the Baboquivari Mountains.  The two men had been in the desert for several days were out of water, exhausted, and could not walk any further.  A2C2 was able to use the smartphone application WhatsApp to identify their coordinates 20 miles north of the border, north of Baboquivari Peak. Around 9:10 p.m. that evening, an AMO UH-60 Black Hawk aircrew located the migrants at over 6,800 feet in altitude, deep in the Baboquivari wilderness.  The crew could not find a suitable landing area near the migrants due to the steep, rugged terrain. After establishing a hover 100 feet above the ground, the crew inserted two AMO Rescue Specialists via hoist, who assessed the migrants, secured them in air rescue vests, and hoisted them back up the helicopter.

The week before, Pima County search and rescue contacted the A2C2 requesting assistance for a heat stroke victim in Sabino Canyon approximately 2.5 miles along the Seven Falls trail northeast of Tucson. The A2C2 relayed the request to the AMO Tucson Air Branch which launched a UH-60 crew immediately, and, upon arrival, extracted the individual and an AMO Rescue Specialist via hoist. An AMO Emergency Medical Technician on board assessed the 25-year-old male U.S. citizen who was suffering from heat related injuries. The man was transported to a Pima County Sheriff’s Office rescue team nearby.

UH-60 Black Hawk used to extract injured man from Sabino Canyon
An AMO UH-60 Black Hawk was used to extract in injured
man from Sabino Canyon.

On March 6, the El Centro Sector Calexico Border Patrol station notified agents working in the field of two individuals lost in the sand dunes due to high winds and limited visibility and needed assistance. The agents located the individuals about 30 minutes later, approximately a quarter mile north of the US-Mexico border. After a wellness check, the individuals were taken into custody and transported to the El Centro Sector Processing Center for additional medical evaluation and processing.  Since October, El Centro Sector Border Patrol agents have successfully rescued 148 individuals who were lost, in distress, or abandoned by smugglers.

California  |  Lost Migrant Rescued in Jacumba Wilderness

Sunday evening, February 27, Border Patrol agents from the El Centro Sector rescued a migrant in the Jacumba Wilderness region near Ocotillo, California.  Shortly before 6:00 p.m., El Centro Sector’s Foreign Operations Branch notified the El Centro Station of a lost individual in need of assistance. Agents were notified of the distress call and responded to the last known GPS coordinates provided. Agents located the individual about 30 minutes later, approximately a mile and a half north of the US-Mexico border. After a wellness check, it was determined no immediate medical assistance was needed. The individual was taken into custody and transported to the El Centro Sector Processing Center for additional medical evaluation and to be processed accordingly.  

Florida  |  CBP Rescues 158 Haitian Migrants Attempting to Swim After Vessel Runs Aground 

Migrants on a vessel that grounded offshore of Key Largo
Vessel grounded containing 356 Haitian migrants

On March 6, CBP and other federal, state, and local law enforcement partners responded to a maritime smuggling event near Key Largo, Florida. After running aground several hundred yards offshore, numerous migrants jumped off the vessel and attempted to swim toward the shore despite rough sea conditions. CBP and partner law enforcement agencies reacted quickly and rescued numerous migrants from the water. A total of 158 migrants were rescued, evaluated by Emergency Medical Services, and then taken into USBP custody. An additional 198 migrants remained onboard and were safely removed from the vessel and taken into custody by the U.S. Coast Guard. An investigation regarding the incident is ongoing.   

CBP's AMO recently responded to another rescue incident in the Florida Keys on March 16, approximately three nautical miles south of Marathon, after overhearing a mayday call on their radios. The AMO vessel crews had been conducting training, but immediately responded to the distress call and found that the boat was quickly taking on large amounts of water. AMO agents safely disembarked all four passengers.

Minnesota  |  Border Patrol Agents Rescue Five in Blizzard, Two Children and Two Adults Tragically Perish

Border Patrol agents on snowmobiles along the Northern Border
Border Patrol Agents use snowmobiles along the Northern
Border, where winter can bring sub-zero temperatures
and blizzard conditions.  CBP File Photo.

On January 19, Border Patrol agents assigned to the Grand Forks Sector stopped a smuggling attempt near Humboldt, Minnesota, rescuing five individuals from treacherous, sub-zero conditions. A Border Patrol agent stopped a vehicle driven by a U.S. citizen on Minnesota Highway 75 near Humboldt at approximately 9:15 a.m. The two passengers in the vehicle were citizens of India who recently crossed the border illegally from Canada. Assisting agents then encountered five additional people walking on a nearby road experiencing severe signs of hypothermia and frostbite due to exposure to the extreme cold and wind chill. Agents immediately rendered aid and called for Emergency Medical Services. Aside from one woman needing advance care, all migrants encountered by agents during this incident were taken into custody and transported to the Pembina Station for further processing. At the station, agents discovered toddler clothing in a bag recovered from the site of apprehension, immediately initiated a search and rescue operation to look for additional migrants and notified the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP).  RCMP discovered four individuals on the Canadian side of the border who perished in the extreme weather conditions. The decedents included two children and two adults.

Puerto Rico  |  AMO, Border Patrol Rescue Migrants Stranded on Desolate Island

Migrants are loaded into an AMO aircraft after being rescued when their vessel grounded offshore
Migrants are boarded on an CAMB Blackhawk
helicopter in Desecheo .

On March 6, a concerned citizen contacted the USBP Ramey Sector indicating that a group of migrants was abandoned on Desecheo island, a desolate island 13 mi (21 km) from Rincón on the west coast of Puerto Rico. With rough seas impeding a safe removal by boat, an AMO Black hawk was diverted from another mission to remove the migrants from the island. Ramey Sector Border Patrol Agents departed with the AMO crew and reached the migrants on the side of the island where they were abandoned. The agents guided the migrants through the rough terrain and elevation to another side of the island where the Black hawk was able to land and transport the migrants to the Ramey station.  

Texas  |  Families Alive After Harrowing Rescues by Border Patrol Agents

Family rescued from the Rio Grande by Del Rio Border Patrol agents
Del Rio Border Patrol agents rescued a family of four,
stranded in the Rio Grande.

On February 12, Del Rio Sector Eagle Pass Border Patrol Station agents were conducting line watch duties near International Bridge No. 2 when they observed a family unit crossing the Rio Grande. As the individuals neared the U.S. riverbank, the ground they were standing on collapsed and they plunged into deep water. The family began to struggle to stay afloat as the swift current carried them down river. One agent quickly jumped into the river and another agent hurled a rescue bag that unfortunately didn’t reach the group. The agent in the river managed to pull the mother and child to safety then dared the waters once more to rescue the adult male. The man had been underwater for an extended period before the agent was able to reach him. Upon being pulled to safety, agents rendered aid and contacted Emergency Medical Services (EMS). The family was evaluated by EMS, who recommended they be transported to a local hospital for further treatment. The 33-year-old man, 34-year-old woman, and 5-year-old girl, all from Haiti, received medical care and were released from the hospital and processed in accordance with CBP policies and guidelines.

A 5-yr-old girl is reunited with her mother after human smugglers left the girl on an island in the Rio Grande
A young girl abandoned by smugglers on an island is
reunited with her mother.

A few weeks later, on March 7, USBP Del Rio Station Marine Unit agents observed four migrants struggling to cross the Rio Grande. Water levels were high, and the river was producing cold, strong currents endangering the lives of the migrants. Agents immediately deployed two rescue throw bags from land but were unsuccessful in reaching the family. The agents then quickly deployed an airboat and successfully rescued the father and mother and their two small children, ages two and three. The subjects did not require medical attention and transported to the Del Rio Station. Between March 4 and 7, Del Rio Sector Border Patrol agents performed 45 water rescues.

Although many families attempt to cross the border together, smugglers are ruthless and will not hesitate to separate migrants for convenience or to gain compliance. On November 13, 2021, Border Patrol agents assigned to Eagle Pass Station encountered a group of migrants who had recently crossed the border. An adult female in the group reported to agents that her 5-year-old daughter was left behind on an island in the Rio Grande between the U.S. and Mexico. Agents notified the Eagle Pass Station Riverine Unit who immediately responded to the area and located a total of 10 undocumented migrants on the island, including the juvenile daughter.  The family members, both Venezuelan nationals, were immediately reunited on scene.

CBP Missing Migrant Program Uses Public Radio to Identify a Deceased Man Found in Falfurrias

On October 4, 2022, Falfurrias Border Patrol Station agents received a call from a ranch employee about the discovery of a decedent who was found with a cell phone, but no identification, and was severely decomposed. Agents and Brooks County Sheriff’s Office (BCSO) deputies responded, and the decedent was ultimately transported to the Brooks County morgue. A few days later, BCSO requested the assistance of the Missing Migrant Program (MMP) to identify the decedent. Fingerprints obtained through macro-photography did not yield a database match, but MMP agents were able to contact an individual in Guatemala listed in the cell phone as “hermano” (brother). That person did not know of anyone who was travelling to the United States but wanted to assist and advised that he would solicit help from the community through a radio station in Guatemala.

That same day, agents received a call from a man in New York who stated he had a friend from Guatemala that was heading to the United States, but last heard from him on September 25, 2021. He advised he heard the information while listening to a Guatemalan radio station on the internet. He believed his friend was left abandoned in the brush near Falfurrias, Texas. MMP agents found a person matching his friend’s name on a list of missing citizens from Guatemala. They requested his fingerprints from the Guatemalan Consulate and through the USBP Joint Forensic Center were able to confirm a positive match for the decedent. This is only one of the many successes of MMP’s “reunification” mission.  Although the program strives to save lives through the deployment of rescue beacons and location placards throughout the southwest border, the successful identification of decedents provides closure to mourning families.

Enforcement News from Across CBP

CBP Officers Discover 18 Pounds of Cocaine in Airplane Cargo Hold

photo of seized drugs

Philadelphia, PA — On March 15, CBP officers at Philadelphia International Airport found 18 pounds of cocaine while performing a routine inspection of a cargo hold. CBP officers met the American Airlines flight from Montego Bay, Jamaica, as it gated, observed the aircraft baggage offload, and then climbed into the cargo hold to conduct a routine examination. That’s when CBP narcotics detector dog Dasha immediately alerted to an access panel. CBP officers discovered three bags that shouldn’t be there. Two gray Puma brand drawstring bags collectively contained eight wrapped bricks of a white powdery substance. CBP officers used a narcotics test kit and a handheld elemental isotope analysis tool and identified the substance as cocaine hydrochloride. The third bag, a plain blue duffle bag, was empty. CBP officers seized the cocaine, which weighed a combined 8.246 kilograms, or about 18 pounds, three ounces. The cocaine has an approximate street value of about $580,000. No arrests have been made. An investigation continues.

 CBP Officers Seize $587K Worth of Narcotics in Three Seizures

photo of seized cocaine

Brownsville, TX — CBP officers at the Brownsville Port of Entry intercepted alleged narcotics in three separate enforcement actions with a combined estimated street value of $587,140. The first seizure took place on March 17, at the Veterans International Bridge when a 25-year-old male U.S. citizen was referred to CBP secondary for further examination of his vehicle. Using a non-intrusive imaging system (NII), CBP officers discovered 10 packages hidden within the vehicle, which contained a total of 26.32 pounds of alleged cocaine. The second seizure took place on March 19, at the Gateway International Bridge when a 22-year-old female U.S. citizen was referred to CBP secondary for further examination. With the aid of a canine unit, CBP officers discovered 10 packages hidden in the vehicle, which contained a total of 26.94 pounds of alleged cocaine. The third seizure took place on March 22, at the Gateway International Bridge when a 23-year-old female U.S. citizen. After being referred to secondary inspection, a canine alerted CBP officers to 10 hidden packages, which contained a total of 22.61 pounds of alleged cocaine.

Office of Congressional Affairs | March 2022

Last Modified: Jan 03, 2024