Drowned children lay bare surge in migrant deaths, disappearances at southern border under Biden

According to the UN's International Organization for Migration, there was a 53% increase in migrant deaths and disappearances at the border last year — the most recorded since at least 2014, when the agency began documenting migrant deaths.

Updated: August 29, 2022 - 11:16pm

The tragic drownings of two children — a 3-year-old boy and a 5-year-old girl — trying to cross the Rio Grande into the U.S. last week has shined a troubling spotlight on a surge in migrant deaths at the southern border since President Biden took office.

The Biden administration is largely to blame for this rise in border deaths, according to experts and former senior border enforcement officials, who told Just the News the U.S. is encouraging historically high levels of illegal immigration rather than deterring people from making the dangerous trek from South and Central America.

Video shot by a Mexican TV station captured the harrowing scene of the young girl's body being pulled from the water near El Paso, Texas last Monday. The river's undercurrent had swept the girl from her mother's arms. Both were from Guatemala.

Meanwhile, the boy was killed separately near Eagle Pass, Texas in a similar drowning incident. A 2-month-old infant who was also found is currently fighting for his life in critical condition.

Both deceased kids were part of separate groups of migrants trying to enter the U.S. illegally.

Such incidents have become increasingly frequent, reaching unprecedented levels during the Biden administration.

In just the first nine months of fiscal year 2022, which began in October, authorities found 609 bodies on the U.S. side of the southern border, according to internal U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) data reported by the Washington Examiner last month.

That's already an all-time high for a single year and more than the previous record of 566 migrant deaths counted during fiscal year 2021, when Biden became president.

By comparison, 247 bodies were recovered in 2020 and 300 in 2019, according to publicly available U.S. Border Patrol data.

According to the United Nations' International Organization for Migration (IOM), there were at least 728 migrant deaths and disappearances at the southern border last year — a 53% increase from 2020 and the most recorded since at least 2014, when the IOM began documenting migrant deaths. This makes the U.S.-Mexico border crossing "the deadliest land crossing in the world," according to the U.N. agency.

"The border crossing between Mexico and the U.S. has become the site of a grave human rights crisis, where thousands of people have gone missing and lost their lives during migration," says the agency's website.

The data shows drowning has been the No. 2 cause of death, only exceeded by "harsh environmental conditions/lack of adequate shelter, food, water," for incidents "recorded in North America" on the U.S.-Mexico border crossing route. However, for migrant deaths and disappearances "recorded in The Americas," drowning jumps to No. 1.

"Flash flooding is pretty common in the Rio Grande," said Andrew Arthur, resident fellow at the Center for Immigration Studies. "And the land route into the U.S. is rugged, remote, and deadly."

In April, a Texas National Guardsman died after trying to save people illegally crossing the border from drowning in the Rio Grande. Authorities later identified the migrants as drug smugglers.

"The ports of entry are our front door — they're safe," said Ken Oliver, senior director of engagement and right on immigration at the Texas Public Policy Foundation. "If you're going through the desert regions or the river, that's another story."

Since Biden entered office, there's been a sharp rise in the number of people who've crossed the southern border illegally. The figure reached about 2.4 million illegal border crossings met by U.S. border officials from July of last year to this past July, the last month for which there's publicly available data.

By comparison, there were just over 626,000 such crossings from January 2020 to January 2021, former President Trump's last year in office.

The figures under Biden don't include the roughly 800,000-900,000 illegal immigrants who are known to have gotten past border agents — or those who got past U.S. authorities without being detected.

A historic surge in attempted illegal border crossings has led to a historic surge in migrant deaths near the border, and experts say U.S. policy under the Biden administration is partly responsible.

"Biden has blood on his hands," said Oliver. "Border Patrol is overwhelmed."

Just the News has previously reported that due to an overwhelming number of illegal immigrants entering the country, well over 50% of agents are often pulled off guarding the 1,954-mile U.S.-Mexico border to process, care for, and transfer migrants, leaving huge gaps for cartels and smugglers to exploit.

Still, search and rescue efforts by CBP have skyrocketed during Biden's presidency.

This fiscal year to date, there have been 18,897 search and rescues by CBP at the southern border, a major increase from 12,833 last year, according to agency data. In 2020, there were only 5,071, and in 2019, there were just 4,920.

The steep increase is a sign of both the agency doing what it can to save migrants and the surging number of life-threatening situations faced by these migrants as illegal immigration skyrockets.

The journey to the U.S. is especially dangerous for children, such as the two killed last Monday.

"Migrant children are traumatized during their journey to and into the U.S.," according to a 2019 report by the Homeland Security Advisory Council. "The journey from Central America through Mexico to remote regions of the U.S. border is a dangerous one for the children involved, as well as for their parent. There are credible reports that female parents of minor children have been raped, that many migrants are robbed, and that they and their child are held hostage and extorted for money."

The report added that children "crossing the borders of the U.S. are at great risk for multiple medical problems, which include but are not limited to, dehydration, malnutrition, infections,
psychological trauma, physical injuries, and all aspects of child maltreatment."

According to experts, more children are facing such risks due to current U.S. policy, which they argue has led families and others to think they won't be deported or even detained if they have kids with them.

"Children are being used as 'passports' to gain entry to the United States," said Oliver. "The Biden administration has incentivized this practice by essentially limiting detention to single adults and eschewing the detention of family units. So, to practically guarantee their release into the country after brief processing, adults are bringing minors with them."

Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas has often said the Biden administration's goal is to restore "safe, humane, and orderly" immigration to the U.S. — a statement that critics described to Just the News as hypocritical if not outright false.

"It's an absolute lie," said Mark Morgan, who served as chief of Border Patrol and acting commissioner of CBP. "Biden's open border policies have directly resulted in an expansion of atrocities suffered by migrants."

Morgan and others argued the Biden administration has failed to deter people from coming to the U.S. illegally, pointing to both the policies and the rhetoric of senior officials.

In May, Fox News host Bret Baier asked Mayorkas in an interview whether it's "the objective of the Biden administration to reduce, sharply reduce the total number of illegal immigrants coming across the southern border."

Mayorkas responded, "It is the objective of the Biden administration to make sure that we have safe, orderly, and legal pathways for individuals to be able to access our legal system."

The Biden administration "doesn't have a policy of deterring illegal immigrants from coming into the U.S.," said Arthur. "In fact, it seems to be the opposite."

The Department of Homeland Security didn't respond to a request for comment for this story. However, a CBP spokesperson told Just the News that the agency is telling potential illegal immigrants not to come.

"CBP's message for anyone who is thinking of entering the United States illegally along the southern border is simple: Don't do it," the spokesperson said. "When migrants cross the border illegally, they put their lives in peril. The terrain along the border is extreme, the summer heat is severe, and the miles of desert migrants must hike after crossing the border in many areas are unforgiving. People who made the dangerous journey into this territory have died of dehydration, starvation, and heat stroke despite CBP's best efforts to locate them."

Opponents of Biden's immigration policy tend to focus on its effects on the American people. But the migrants themselves are also victims, experts stressed.

"This is why border security is so important," said Morgan, now a visiting fellow at the Heritage Foundation. "We need to deincentivize migrants from making the treacherous trek."

Tallies of the number of migrants dead or missing at the southern border don't include many who never made it to the crossing. Reports indicate, for example, that many migrants die in the Darien Gap in Central America on their way to the U.S.-Mexico border, but their remains are neither recovered nor reported.

Many migrants who make it to the U.S. before dying are discovered by local law enforcement.

Brooks County, Texas, for example, has the highest number of migrant deaths in the nation. So far this year, more than 70 bodies have been discovered.

Deputy Don White explained in a recent video by the Texas Public Policy Foundation that he personally takes on the costs of searching for and recovering the migrant bodies since the county can't afford it.

Many of these counties, primarily in Texas, take financial hits from dealing with the bodies. They need to call for a coroner, keep the bodies properly interred, and potentially return them to the families, experts explained, adding local cops can also be traumatized when they come across some of the bodies that show up on ranches.

Even if migrants survive, many of them are still forced to endure a range of atrocities from extortion to sexual assault during the trek. Many women bring morning-after pills with them in anticipation of being raped. Human trafficking for work or sex is also common, with smugglers and drug cartels involved in the abuse.

"They treat these migrants like pieces of garbage," said Morgan.

On Friday, U.S. authorities found a 4-month-old infant and an 18-month-old toddler in Arizona's Sonoran Desert, which borders Mexico. Smugglers left the young children in the desert "to die," according to a border agent.

Earlier this year, 53 migrants were found dead squeezed into an overheated tractor trailer.

"When you increase the number of illegal immigrants and incentivize them to come, you get more rape, more sexual assault, more suffering, and more deaths," said Morgan.