Texas Border Town In Need Of Refrigerators For Migrant Drowning Victims
The increase in migrant drownings in Eagle Pass has “overwhelmed” local mortuaries and funeral homes, leaving the town’s fire department asking for more refrigerators to store bodies, the agency’s chief said.
“There are so many bodies being recovered that the morticians are asking for assistance,” Eagle Pass Fire Department Chief Manuel Mello III, said. “I had never seen so many drownings like we’re seeing right now.”
“We do a body recovery daily,” Mello continued. “It’s very traumatic for my personnel.”
The Del Rio sector of the southern border has seen over 376,000 migrant encounters since October 2021, with a daily average of nearly 1,100 per day, according to Customs and Border Protection. Across the entire border, there have been 1.8 million encounters over the past 11 months.
Earlier this month, 13 migrants died and 53 others were apprehended while attempting to cross the Rio Grande into the United States, according to CBP.
“Sometimes you’ll be walking in an area where the water will never go above your knee, but all of a sudden you’ll have a drop of about 10, 12 feet,” Mello said of the Rio Grande. “If you’re carrying a baby, you’re going to go down 10 or 12 feet with that baby.”
Several children have died recently while crossing the river, he added.
“We had a three-month-old baby, we had a three-year-old baby brother that passed away,” Mello said. “The uncle was trying to cross, he fell into a deep hole in the river, let go of the babies.”
“The babies drowned,” he said.
Mello said that 25 years ago when he joined the fire department, there were 12 body recoveries a year, on average. Now, there are about 30 every month, he said.
“I don’t see any end in sight,” Mello said.
“I would like to see the federal government jump in and help out in whatever way they can,” the fire chief said. “If they could at least stop this migration, that would be awesome.”
He said Maverick County, where Eagles Pass is located, will likely have 300 body recoveries this year.
Since October, CBP has conducted nearly 19,000 search and rescue efforts, compared to less than 5,000 in fiscal 2019.
The surge in recoveries has taken its toll on firefighters’ mental health, resulting in staffing issues. Workers are taking more days off and are experiencing emotional breakdowns, according to the chief.
“These are young gentlemen, young women are seeing more than any normal person would see in a lifetime,” Mello said. “It’s almost like a war zone.”