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SPECIAL REPORT: Dying in the desert

Sunrise anchor Samantha Byrd rode along with U.S. Border Patrol Yuma Sector BORSTAR agents who shared a behind-the-scenes look at the dangers of crossing illegally.

YUMA COUNTY, Ariz. (KYMA, KECY) - Thousands of migrants cross the U.S.-Mexico border every month, facing harsh elements as they make their journey.

BORSTAR Commander Patrick Aguirre says BORSTAR is the Border Patrol Search, Trauma and Rescue Unit. It's a specialized unit of the United States Border Patrol, trained in emergency search and rescue, and medical response.

"All in all, we're still Border Patrol agents and we still work the field just like anybody else," Aguirre shared.

BORSTAR's main focus is to respond to migrants in distress. So far, in this federal fiscal year, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) said its Air and Marine operations unit has rescued 76 migrants. Last year, they rescued 187 migrants.

"They'll be caught in the desert. They'll get dehydrated. We've had people fall off the fence, hit rescue beacons, so by us being proactive and trying to apprehend those subjects, essentially we're saving their life just in case they don't make it to their destination."

Patrick Aguirre, BORSTAR Commander

Aguirre said he would ask every single question possible to assess exactly the manpower needed and what tools or equipment they need to utilize for each rescue.

"Summer is where we really need to prepare because 911 calls do increase. We have migrants still pursuing a better life, walking through these deserts and having trouble because of dehydration, inability to physically walk through the desert."

Patrick Aguirre, BORSTAR Commander

The BORSTAR commander explained the desert could take up to two weeks to cross on foot, and in the summer heat, you'd need to carry over 100 pounds of water.

"It's brutal even for us. We get fatigued. We get tired, and we need breaks," Aguirre explained.

One thing the Yuma Sector did first to combat this issue and assist the rescue mission, was to deploy rescue beacons.

"One of our latest calls, somebody fell off the fence, walked five miles through the desert, hit the rescue beacon and I believe he had a broken arm," Aguirre described.

Yuma Sector said it was the first sector to deploy rescue beacons out of the entire U.S. Border Patrol.

"There is a light right at the top that they can see and walk towards. All they gotta do is push this button here and we usually have agents respond to this area within an hour or maybe less," Aguirre further shared.

But sometimes, they can’t make it to the rescue beacon, so agents have to check for other signs.

"You're driving across the road hoping to see footprints across, so when you see the footprint, then it changes to pushing the sign, then you're following the footprint to whichever destination it's going to," Aguirre spoke.

Aguirre said there are times when he's had to put people on his shoulders and back to hike them down.

"...And then there's a possibility for us injuring ourselves. So, we do what we have to do, understanding that we may be injured, but we always get the job done," Aguirre remarked.

Aguirre said there are 11 agents on the BORSTAR team and no matter what journey migrants take, or what trouble they may get into, they are all working for one common goal: To save lives.

Tune in on Wednesday at 5:00 p.m. on News 11 to watch the full report.

Article Topic Follows: Special Reports

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Samantha Byrd

Samantha Byrd joined the KYMA team in February 2022 and is the morning anchor/producer for News 11 and Fox 9.

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