Above: A backpack left behind by a migrant in Brooks County
The Texas National Guard has deployed a team to Brooks County to conduct search and rescue operations for migrants lost in the brush.
Law enforcement has recovered more than 400 bodies since 2009 in the rural county 60 miles north of the Texas-Mexico border. Every year, thousands of migrants try to circumvent a Border Patrol checkpoint in Brooks County by walking through rugged, isolated ranchland. Many die during the journey from heat exposure and thirst.
The deployment is a separate operation from the Texas Department of Public Safety’s Operation Strong Safety and the National Guard soldiers deployed by Gov. Perry to the border, according to a DPS press release. Specially trained teams of 20 to 25 guardsmen will conduct search and rescue missions in the county when requested by the Brooks County Sheriff’s office. The National Guard didn’t say how long the deployment to Brooks County would last.
Eddie Canales, director of the South Texas Human Rights Center in Brooks County, said the guard deployment could save lives. “We welcome any assistance in search and rescue in Brooks County,” he says.“We’re very interested at the center in seeing how this works, and how they work with Border Patrol and the sheriff’s office.”
Canales believes the guard will mostly focus on 9-1-1 distress calls from the brush, which are received by the sheriff’s office. In the past, the Border Patrol has been criticized for taking two hours or longer to respond to distress calls, or in some cases not responding at all.
Another area where they need help is with missing persons reports, Canales says. The center received a dozen phone calls from relatives of missing migrants over the summer. But callers often have so little information about where their loved one went missing or fell ill in the county that it’s difficult—if not impossible—for law enforcement to locate them.
“I just received a call for someone who disappeared on the 18th of September,” he says. “But the only information we have about where he went missing is that it was near the checkpoint.”
Canales says families need help but he’s unsure what the National Guard search and rescue team can do in these cases with so little information. “What is the process to request a search and rescue deployment?” he asks. “I’m exploring all of the avenues right now, hoping they can help.”