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Border Patrol agent reflects on one of the worst illegal immigration tragedies to date

YUMA, Ariz. (KYMA, KECY) - 20 years ago, 14 undocumented immigrants were found dead after attempting to illegally cross into the United States through the desert southeast of Yuma.

This tragedy is considered by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Yuma Sector to be one of the worst illegal immigration tragedies by far.

It was shortly after 10 a.m. on May 23, 2001, when Agent David Phagan was out patrolling when he said he came across four men from the desert area. Agent Phagan says after speaking with the men, he was told they were part of a group of about 28 people who had all illegally crossed the border. The four men told Agent Phagan they believed everyone else they came with was dead.

CBP's rescue team found the other individuals from the larger group. In total, CBP says it took the rescue team two days to find everyone. Unfortunately, 14 of those people did not survive, and the rest were near death, according to Agent Phagan.

Agent Phangan was three years into his job and said it was that specific event that truly opened his eyes to the important work CBP agents like himself do every day.

Recently, CBP Yuma Sector has placed metal signs across the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge, known for having deserted terrain. These signs encourage those entering the United States illegally through the desert to call 911 if they need help.

The signs include a number that helps agents quickly find those who are calling for help.

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Crystal Jimenez

Crystal Jimenez began at KYMA as a Digital Content Producer in June 2019, and is now a multimedia journalist.

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