A 10-month-old boy died and three others are missing after a raft carrying nine migrants capsized Wednesday night on the Rio Grande river along the US–Mexico border, authorities said.
The tragedy occurred around 9:45 p.m. when Border Patrol agents from the Eagle Pass South Station in Texas apprehended a man after he entered the US without authorization, Customs and Border Protection officials said. The man told the agents he had tried to cross the Rio Grande in a rubber raft that had overturned. The man's wife, two sons aged 10 months and 6 years, and his 7-year-old nephew, were also on the raft.
Moments later a Border Patrol agent rescued the man's wife and 6-year-old son, who were struggling to stay afloat. The child was treated by emergency officials and rushed to a local hospital.
A short time later, another man and a child were found on the US side of the riverbank, but did not require medical assistance, CBP said. The Del Rio Border Patrol Sector’s Search, Trauma and Rescue team was sent to the area and located the body of the 10-month-old boy several miles downriver.
A person with knowledge of the incident who was not authorized to speak with the media said the people who fell off the raft were from Honduras.
The tragedy comes as border agents encounter a record number of families and children along the southern border. More than 53,000 families were apprehended in March, the highest number recorded in a single month since CBP began tracking the figure in 2012.
In March, Border Patrol agents arrested 92,607 people between ports of entry, a 12-year high. The total number of southwest border apprehensions in March was 103,492, also the highest during that same period, the figure includes people deemed inadmissible at official border crossings like asylum-seekers.
Raul Ortiz, the Del Rio Sector chief patrol agent, called the death of the 10-month-old a senseless tragedy and blamed smugglers for putting people in dangerous situations.
“The men and women of the U.S. Border Patrol have been doing everything in their power to prevent incidents like this," Ortiz said in a statement. "And yet, callous smugglers continue to imperil the lives of migrants for financial gain.”
Advocates and attorneys have long blamed US policies of turning away asylum-seekers at official border crossings for pushing people to cross the border illegally, or between ports of entry.
Immigration advocates have long complained about the US practice of "metering" — allowing only a few asylum-seekers to make their case each day — and a Department of Homeland Security inspector general's report found that the practice, forcing hundreds of people to wait weeks just to apply, pushes asylum-seekers to cross into the US illegally, instead of going through official ports of entry.
Stephanie Leutert, director of the Mexico Security Initiative at the University of Texas at Austin, told BuzzFeed News some smugglers used to drop off asylum-seekers at official border crossings and wait to make sure they were able to ask the US for refuge before departing.
Metering has prompted smugglers to take migrants to remote parts of the border to cross undetected instead of waiting for weeks on the Mexican side for their turn to ask the US for asylum.
"Now with metering, they tell migrants, 'I can leave you here or cross you into the US via the river,'" Leutert said.