More and more migrants are crossing through dangerous regions near the U.S. border. When they end up in dire situations, they may find themselves relying on a specific type of Border Patrol unit. The U.S. Border Patrol Search Trauma and Rescue (BORSTAR) unit is tasked with responding to distress calls and reports of people in danger, most of whom are lost in the far reaches of the country’s southern wilderness. BORSTAR’s mission is to render necessary aid and evacuate anyone in urgent medical need to the nearest location where they can receive healthcare.
A June 2022 report states that BORSTAR had rescued 14,278 migrants near the southern border to date at that point in the fiscal year. Their goal is to prevent people from succumbing to overheating, dehydration, hypothermia, or other forms of exposure. Unfortunately, not all efforts result in a saved life. Confirming reported bodies is also one of the unit’s tasks. And as desperation mounts in response to an increasingly overwhelmed U.S. immigration system, the toll could soon reach much higher.
Migrants in Distress Are Near the End of a Long, Dangerous Journey
Contrary to what many of the public may conceive, most Border Patrol activities involve peaceful encounters with individuals who want to be found. In the past, a significant portion of people seeking entry could surrender themselves at established border checkpoints and request asylum. But when more-restrictive border policies were passed, including Title 42, these individuals now face a high chance of being expelled right back at the border without any hope of a screening or hearing for their asylum request.
The solution, then, is to get caught deeper into U.S. territory. Since being immediately turned away at the border foregoes any sort of due process for removal, those caught at official checkpoints essentially have no way to claim asylum as a defense against deportation. By being caught actually well within U.S. borders, the individuals must then be formally considered for prosecution — and, thereby, asylum.
It’s a catch-22 that has led to a brutal situation, with a record number of deaths of those trying to enter the U.S. in recent years. Over 800 deaths were reported over the fiscal year 2022, and more are expected this year as Title 42 is set to expire, which is predicted to trigger a new wave of asylum seekers at the border.
The biggest source of pressure to flee one’s country and seek asylum in the U.S. include political persecution, threats of violence from gangs, and exploitation. Many are members of vulnerable groups escaping from assaults they have already dealt with because of their religion, gender, or sexual orientation.
Increasingly, though, many in South and Central America are fleeing economic devastation.
Jacqueline Arellano, an operator of the non-profit called Border Kindness, says that many of the migrants she has rescued tell her there is nothing for them back home, resource-wise. She told NPR affiliate WBUR in a recent story that when she asked someone she recently encountered where they were from, he told her: “Yo no tengo pais. I don’t have a country. I don’t have anywhere else to go.”
The global disruption felt during the pandemic, beginning in 2020, hit many impoverished countries the hardest.
“Even in the U.S., we are experiencing inflation and some economic challenges that feel a little more permanent, or at least lingering,” Aldana said. “But the effects of the pandemic in economies of the global south have been pronounced and severe.”
The promise of something better leads many individuals and families into the arms of criminal organizations, which promise to smuggle them into the U.S. — for a steep fee. The costs are high, often in the tens of thousands, which is astronomical for those who live on a budget of a few dollars or cents a day. It represents everything they had.
That all-in approach shows why they’re willing to brave record-breaking temperatures or attempt to swim across the swift-moving Rio Grande. The outcome is often grim. But, thanks to the efforts of people like Aldana, lives can be saved.
BORSTAR Under Scrutiny for Failing to Respond to Rescue Calls
On paper, BORSTAR’s aim is supposed to be identical to that of groups like Border Kindness. But recent independent investigations have turned up a different story: one of scant resources and a demonstrable reluctance to actually intervene.
A March 2023 report published on the news website CounterPunch detailed a search-and-rescue operation that was continually frustrated by a BORSTAR unit’s refusal to locate and assist a stranded man.
Volunteers with the Frontier Aid Collective — a group similar to Border Kindness — had received a report from a Guatemalan family that one of the men in their group got lost in the Sonoran Desert, just past the U.S. border. In response to the report, BORSTAR was called 40 times over the course of two days, where they were repeatedly requested to send out a rescue team. Their response every time was that they were “working on it.”
Ultimately, the report details that the volunteer team had to climb into a range of steep hills in order to locate the man and render aid. They found him delirious from malnutrition and exposure. When the man was finally escorted down the hill, a single Border Patrol agent was there to arrest him.
A primary report issued by the group No More Deaths alleges that in 63% of distress calls sent to BORSTAR, there was no search and rescue effort made whatsoever. In nearly a third of cases — 27% — BORSTAR searches concluded as a disappearance, meaning that no living person or deceased body was found in connection to the report.
While BORSTAR’s efforts to provide a dedicated search and rescue team for migrants are laudable, the reality is that too many slip through the cracks. The dangers migrants face are extreme, and there is next to nothing in the way of support or guidance for most of them as they seek to conclude their long journey toward a new life.
Reach Out to an Asylum and Immigration Lawyer for Assistance
If you or someone you know is detained by ICE or CBP or is otherwise seeking to remain in the United States, reach out to the experienced immigration law team at Singh Ahluwalia Attorneys at Law for assistance. We have helped hundreds of thousands of individuals fight for their human rights and navigate the U.S. immigration system. We can provide you with guidance, legal strategy, and support as you prepare for a hearing or other procedure in connection with your case.
Help often feels far away, but we are able to provide our clients with comprehensive and compassionate legal representation. Let us fight for you on behalf of those who are willing to give up everything to make it to the U.S.
Schedule your confidential, no-obligation case review now when you call (559) 878-4958 or contact us online.