A cold snap and a rare south Texas snowstorm necessitated the rescue of about two dozen illegal aliens and prompted Customs and Border Protection officials to issue again warnings about the dangers of illegally crossing the border.
While 23 were rescued from the freezing cold in 11 different events in the remote region along the Rio Grande in Texas, eight others subsequently died.
"A lot of these [people] were the result of these individuals being lost in the brush, abandoned by their smuggler, and in distress because of the cold conditions,” said Miguel Contreras, the special operations supervisor for U.S. Border Patrol in Laredo, Texas. “They didn't know their way around or where they were going, so they called 9-1-1.”
Contreras said the patrol quickly moved from an enforcement role to a humanitarian one. “We wanted to make sure we were taking care of these people,” he said.
In fact, in at least one case, agents literally gave the illegal aliens the coats off their backs to help them. Two juveniles waived down the Border Patrol along the highway, freezing to death in the cold.
“Agents gave them their jackets just to help them warm up a little bit,” said Contreras. “A lot of the people we rescued were facing severe hypothermia.”
Contreras added the skills needed to track illegal aliens served the Border Patrol agents well. In one case, after illegal aliens called 9-1-1, the local sheriff’s office was able to triangulate their location and told them to shelter at a nearby deer blind.
“We weren't able to pinpoint exactly where these individuals were, but that’s where our search and rescue efforts really take off,” said Contreras. Border Patrol agents on horseback were able to go in, track them and eventually located them in a huge search area. “Border Patrol agents are some of the best ‘sign-cutters’ out there, able to follow sign over long distances and periods of time.”
The whole event re-emphasized the danger an illegal border crossing brings, whether it’s cold or warm.
“It’s not only the temperatures but the terrain and the risk of placing your life into the hands of a smuggler,” said Contreras. “You could be walking for days, miles through the desert, or you could be placed in the back of a tractor trailer where you can’t get out.”
Contreras couldn't be prouder of the men and women he works with.
“It just goes to show you the type of effort agents put forth every day,” said Contreras. “They go above and beyond the call of duty, saving lives and securing the border.”