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Border agents rescue 26 migrants from remote western Arizona desert

Bodies of 2 dead people found near Yuma earlier this week

Border Patrol agents, including members of the agency's specialized search and rescue team, aided a group of 26 migrants Wednesday in the western Arizona desert south of Interstate 8, authorities said.

Agents from the Casa Grande Border Patrol station, and members of the Tucson Sector's Border Patrol Search Trauma and Rescue Unit, known as BORSTAR, were dispatched after a member of the group called 911, a spokesman said.

The agents found 26 people in the remote desert near the Tabletop Mountains, about 79 miles northwest of Tucson, just beyond the Tohono O'odham Nation and about 6 miles south of the Interstate, said Rob Daniels of U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Several of the people required "immediate treatment" for heat-related illnesses, and four were flown to a local hospital suffering "severe dehydration," Daniels said. 

In an image published by CBP, agents with BORSTAR were shown giving IV fluids and water to people in the remote desert. 

Temperatures that day exceeded 95 degrees Fahrenheit, Daniels said. "As the peak of summer approaches, heat becomes a major concern. Anyone in immediate distress in Arizona’s vast outdoor recreational and wilderness areas is urged to call 911 or to seek out a rescue beacon," he said, adding that CBP "works closely" with other federal, tribal, state and local agencies to search and rescue people in the desert.

Highlighting the danger, earlier this week, agents in the adjacent Yuma Sector found the remains of two people in separate incidents in the desert near the Yuma foothills. 

On Monday morning, an agent from the Wellton station near Yuma, Ariz., was tracking a group through the Barry M. Goldwater bombing range— a 1.9 million acre expanse of desert in the western edge of the state—when he found the remains of a Mexican man. The man, identified only as a 40-year-old from Mexico, was just a few miles from a rescue beacon and had been dead for approximately two weeks, Daniels said. 

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The following day, Yuma Sector agents received a 911 call from the Mexican emergency call center known as C5, and were told that there was a group of people who needed help in the Yuma foothills. The caller told agents that one member of the group had collapsed, and that she had died. 

Agents with CBP's Air and Marine Operations flew to the area and located the group. The woman, 20, came to the U.S. from Guatemala, and her remains were turned over to the coroner with the Yuma County Sheriff's Office, Daniels said. Among those who were taken into custody was the guide, identified as a 16-year-old boy from San Luis, Mexico. 

"It doesn’t take much," said Lenin Padilla, a Border Patrol agent and program manager assigned to the Yuma Sector Foreign Operations Branch. "Proof of that is the woman. She was only a couple miles north of the border. It’s hot out there." Padilla also manages the Yuma Sector's Missing Migrant Program, which coordinates search and rescue operations with the Mexican government, and other non-governmental organizations. 

The chief of the Yuma Sector, Chris T. Clem called the situation tragic and blamed smugglers for the incident. "The smugglers have no regard for human life," Clem said. “Border Patrol agents will continue to do their best to mitigate entries and rescue migrants who need their help."

"The most important thing is prevention," Padilla said. "We are trying to prevent people from crossing the desert, especially in the summer months."

Padilla also works closely with consulates, medical examiners, and coroners to help locate missing migrants and identify deceased migrants for the purpose of notifying family members, Daniels said. 

The agency said that "for those who choose to ignore the warnings" about crossing the desert, there are rescue beacons that allow people to contact Border Patrol, and the agency has placed 911 placards throughout the desert, showing where cellphone coverage will allow a rescue call. During May, Yuma Sector agents responded to 47 emergency calls, and rescued 126 migrants, the agency said. They also recovered the remains of five people, three of whom were later identified. 

Across the U.S.-Mexico border, agents have reported rescuing more than 5,700 people since October 2020. 

Padilla said that there are also two migrants who are unaccounted for. Families have reported them missing after they planned to cross Arizona's desert, but they haven't been heard from since. "These were people who were in the desert and were never found," Padilla said, and he said he expects the numbers of 911 calls and remains to rise.

"Unfortunately, we are expecting the number of 911 calls to increase as the summer months come," he said.

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CBP

BORSTAR agents give IV fluids to migrants in the remote desert near I-8.

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