‘Florida is a destination area’: An exclusive look at immigration border crisis amid rise in rescues

Local 10 visits southern border, sees firsthand how migrants are risking their lives

Local 10 News Reporter Janine Stanwood reports from the U.S-Mexico border.

Local 10 was with U.S. Border Patrol in the Tucson sector, near the southern border with Mexico, when several migrants were spotted in the desert.

The group was wearing head-to-toe camouflage, with matching backpacks, when they were apprehended. Federal agents said it’s typical for migrants to give cash to smugglers who provide the clothes, as well as carpet booties that cover shoes, to mask footprints and evade capture.

One man said he had food and water, but admitted he didn’t realize he would be walking for so long. The next town over was at least another 45 miles away.

“It’s very unfortunate. It’s something we see every single day; the migrants get lied to,” said Border Patrol Agent Jesus Vasavilbaso. “They have no idea what distances are once they cross the border. They think they’re going to walk a few hours, maybe a day, and they’re not prepared. They’re looking for a better life, but they’re risking their life.”

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, left, listens to Deputy patrol agent in charge of the US Border Patrol Anthony Crane as he tours the section of the border wall Tuesday, May 17, 2022, in Hidalgo, Texas. (Joel Martinez/The Monitor via AP, Pool)

Much of what agents do in the field is humanitarian and life-saving work. Rescues and deaths in the Tucson sector are up more than 600% from the last fiscal year.

A special team called Border Patrol Search, Trauma, and Rescue, or BORSTAR, deploys dogs to help track scents in the desert.

911 calls made by migrants near the border in Arizona get patched into the Tucson Sector headquarters, where bilingual operators take calls.

Stationery beacons placed in the desert over the last few years help rescuers vector in to people injured or needing help in the desert.

“At times we don’t make it there in time. We are already above where we were in deaths, in this sector,” said deputy chief patrol agent Robert Garcia “The risk the migrants take to make it here, this is one of the most dangerous environments to do so. The men and women of CBP are exceptional at what they do - but we are being tested with those flows.”

Related stories from Local 10 visit to southern border:

Record number of Cuban migrants attempting to cross into US at southern border with Mexico

Fighting fentanyl at the US border; Local 10 granted exclusive access to law enforcement operations

Officials warn of spike in mass-overdoses due to fentanyl

About the Author:

Janine Stanwood joined Local 10 News in February 2004 as an assignment editor. She is now a general assignment reporter. Before moving to South Florida from her Washington home, Janine was the senior legislative correspondent for a United States senator on Capitol Hill.