Two Honduran children found clinging to an island surrounded by a powerful current in the Rio Grande were rescued by Border Patrol agents last week and taken into custody, the region’s top border official said, the latest example of the dangers migrants face as a growing number desperately attempt to reach the US.
The children, ages seven and 13, were discovered by Border Patrol agents patrolling the river on Thursday, according to US Border Patrol Del Rio Chief Patrol Agent Austin Skero.
“The kids were scared,” Skero said in an interview with CNN.
The agents were on patrol in airboats when they came upon “small hand and footprints” on an island in the middle of the Rio Grande, he said. The agents become suspicious, followed the tracks, and found the two children, Skero added.
When the agents approached the children, the pair tried to enter the river and reach the boat, but an agent told them to stay where they were and maneuvered the vessel closer. The children were then safely pulled onboard the vessel.
Both of the children, who are not related, told authorities that they were separated from their mothers in Mexico and encountered an adult man claiming he would help them cross into the United States. The children were abandoned on the riverbank, Skero said.
“It’s awful to see this, but it seems that we’re seeing it more and more,” Skero told CNN. “Kids are winding up abandoned on the river, or they cross by themselves. And we find them by themselves in the middle of branches, with nothing more than say a lanyard around their neck with a phone number and a name.”
The rescue comes as the Biden administration has struggled to keep up with the pace of apprehensions on the border, leaving hundreds of children in Border Patrol custody beyond the legal 72-hour limit.
Apprehensions of unaccompanied children in the Del Rio sector are up 230% this fiscal year, said Skero. Smuggling cases are also up this year, as well as the number of criminals, like sex offenders, arrested on the border.
There are “more people than we’ve ever experienced,” arriving at the border, Skero said, which is prompting more incidents and rescues. “I’ve never experienced anything like it.”
The “mass of humanity” arriving at the border has caused another problem, Skero said. While agents are occupied processing large groups and children that turn themselves in to authorities, others are evading apprehension. Since October, around 29,000 people have crossed unlawfully and evaded arrest, Skero said.
The terrain in the region is inhospitable, Skero said, pointing out that while the river water often looks calm, it can have a very strong undercurrent.
According to the Border Patrol, there have been nearly 700 rescues this fiscal year in the Del Rio sector, which covers a 245-mile stretch of the Rio Grande and Lake Amistad on the US-Mexico border.
The children are “healthy and doing well,” Skero said, and being held at the temporary tent facility in Eagle Pass, Texas, while awaiting transfer to Health and Human Services custody. The full circumstance of their journey is unknown, but according to government records, this is the first time the children were apprehended by Border Patrol.
The 13-year-old told agents that he was on a train in Mexico with his mother and brothers when Mexican immigration authorities boarded, prompting his family members to flee. But the boy remained on the train and continued alone.
The 7-year-old said he had stopped to sleep, along with his mother, near a river in Mexico and when he awoke she was gone.
“These are some of the stories that happen with these kids. They are either abandoned on the river, or they’re abandoned by smugglers or somehow, they become separated from their families,” Skero said.
The Border Patrol agents involved in the rescue of the two kids were involved in another rescue several weeks earlier. During that incident, the agents saved a mother and a boy who were drowning. But unfortunately, they were not able to resuscitate a daughter, Skero said.
And in January, Border Patrol agents responded to a report of two subjects who had “been swept away by the swift water,” Skero said. About a week later, agents found the body of a woman who appeared to be pregnant with twins.
“This weighs heavily on our agents,” he said.