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Nine migrants drown attempting to cross Rio Grande river.
Nine migrants drown attempting to cross Rio Grande river. Photo: Chandan Khanna/AFP via Getty Images.

Nine migrants die attempting to cross the Rio Grande

The river was two feet higher than usual due to heavy rain.

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U.S. and Mexican officials continued a search for more bodies of migrants on Saturday, Sept. 3,  after discovering nine on Thursday, Sept. 1, near Eagle Pass, Texas. U.S. Customs and Border Protection discovered six bodies and Mexican officials recovered three according to a statement from CBP. 

According to the CBP, U.S. officials also rescued 37 and detained 16. Mexican officials jailed 39. 

The migrants drowned attempting to cross the already treacherous Rio Grande River along the U.S.-Mexico border, the deadliest drowning in recent history. The area had seen days of heavy rainfall and the river rose from three to five feet. According to the National Weather Service, the river was flowing five times faster than usual. Officials on both sides have not revealed what countries the migrants were from or any other information. 

The Del Rio sector of the U.S. border, which includes Eagle Pass, has become the busiest and popular way of crossing in recent times. According to government statistics, migrants were stopped by U.S. officials more than 50,000 times this past July with Rio Grande coming in second at 35,000. 

According to Stephanie Leutert, director of Central America and Mexico Policy Initiative at the University of Texas’ Center for International Security and Law, the area has become a favorite among migrants because it is less controlled by cartels compared to other areas and dangerous cities, and is seen to be the safest path among all dangerous options. 

“It might be a different price. It might be seen as safer. It might keep you out of cities that are notoriously dangerous — Those cities (in the Del Rio sector) definitely have had a reputation as being safer than say, Nuevo Laredo,” said Leutert. 

The heavy rainfall in the days that led to the drownings made the river waters more brash with heavy currents. Despite the deadly conditions as a result of the rain, Chief Patrol Agent of the Del Rio sector, Jason Owens says that border agents are still coming across large groups as big as 100 and 200 a day, of migrants attempting to cross the river. The Del Rio sector stretches over 245 miles.

“In an effort to prevent further loss of life, we are asking everyone to please avoid crossing illegally,” Owens said in a statement.

Drownings along the Rio Grande river are not uncommon for border patrol agents. CBP said in a news release last month that from October 2021 to July 2022, over 200 bodies were discovered.

The United States is coming off a record-breaking year for deaths along the U.S.-Mexico border, the most since 2014, when the U.N. International Organization for Migration began to record numbers. This year is on pace to break last year's record already. 2021 saw over 728 deaths according to figures, with over 400 already with half a year to go. Border Patrol has not released figures since 2020. 

“There are places when the water levels are down where you could wade across, but when the river is up it’s extremely dangerous, especially if you’re carrying kids or trying to help someone who is not a strong swimmer,” Leutert said. 

This comes off the heels of mass migration casualties, such as the over 50 dead that were found in an abandoned sweltering truck in San Antonio back in June. The Del Rio sector attracts migrants from different parts of Latin America and most recently, Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela. It has also become a favorite for Haitian migrants. 

“The whole journey speaks to the desperation of people — They know that crossing the river is dangerous. They know that hiking through ranchland is dangerous. They know that crossing Mexico as a foreigner is dangerous. But they’re willing to do this because what they’re leaving behind is, to them, a worse possibility than facing risk and trying for a better opportunity in the U.S,” Leutert said.

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