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migrants crossing the Rio Grande

Migrants cross the Rio Grande near Eagle Pass, Texas on July 25, 2022. (Photo: Nick Wagner/Xinhua via Getty Images)

Migrant Mass Drowning in Texas Spurs Renewed Calls for Immigration Reform

"Congress must act quickly to pass solutions that bring compassion and security to our border," said one advocacy group after at least nine people drowned trying to cross the Rio Grande.

Brett Wilkins

Advocates on Saturday urged Congress to pass immigration reforms after at least nine migrants drowned while attempting to cross the swollen Rio Grande from Mexico into Texas earlier this week.

"Our border policies continue to kill."

According to reports, 37 migrants were rescued while trying to ford the surging river near Eagle Pass on Thursday, while eight other people are missing. U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) spokesperson Rick Pauza said in a statement that federal and local authorities continue to search for possible survivors. 

CBP said that U.S. authorities arrested 53 migrants at the scene, while their Mexican counterparts apprehended 39 others.

"My heart goes out to the families that have lost loved ones during their tragic journey to the U.S.," tweeted Rep. Jesús "Chuy" Garcia (D-Ill.) in response to the drownings. "This is an unfortunate reminder that we must prioritize our immigration laws along with the socio-economic policies that fuel displacement and migration."

Ieva Jusionyte, a professor of international security and anthropology at Brown University's Watson Institute, wrote that "our border policies continue to kill."

"Hardened borders are deadly," concurred Ruthie Epstein, a former deputy director of immigration policy at the ACLU.

The National Immigration Forum, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group, tweeted, "This heartbreaking tragedy highlights once again the need for Congress to act and pass immigration reforms."

"Congress must act quickly to pass solutions that bring compassion and security to our border, in the names of human lives and human dignity," the group added. 

According to The New York Times:

The fire chief in Eagle Pass, Manuel Mello, said fierce currents had swept a number of migrants downstream as they attempted to cross about a mile south of the international bridge. Drownings have become an everyday occurrence in that section of the border, typically as many as one a day, and sometimes more, said the chief, a 58-year-old Eagle Pass native.

About two months ago, he said, 12 bodies were recovered on the same day—six by the Mexican authorities and six by U.S. rescue officials—after another large group tried to cross into the United States.

More recently, two boys, one 3 years old and the other 3 months old, slipped from the grasp of an uncle as they were attempting to cross, he said. The older boy drowned, and the infant was rushed to a San Antonio hospital in critical condition.

Belying Republican claims that President Joe Biden's "open border" policies are to blame for tragedies like the Eagle Pass drownings and the fatal asphyxiation of 53 people in a tractor-trailer near San Antonio in June, a Reuters investigation published earlier this year noted that "migrants have increasingly turned to riskier methods of entering the U.S. as enforcement policies along the border have strengthened."

According to the Reuters report, there have been more than 1,000 border fatalities during Biden's tenure, both on land and in the river.

"The Rio Grande is treacherous unless you know the safe crossing points," said Mondoweiss editor James North. "Migrants should be able to cross at ports of entry and request asylum."

Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, director of policy at the advocacy group American Immigration Council, noted that "migrants who try to go to the Eagle Pass port of entry and seek asylum have been completely turned away since March 2020, and largely turned away since April 2018."

"With the ports of entry shut except in limited circumstances, desperate people feel like they have no other options," he added.

In May, a federal judge issued an injunction blocking the Biden administration from lifting Title 42, a public health order first invoked during the Trump administration and used by both presidents to deport around two million asylum-seekers under the pretext of the Covid-19 pandemic.

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