SUNLAND PARK, New Mexico (Border Report) – Migrant deaths and rescues are up in El Paso and Southern New Mexico. So are assaults on Border Patrol agents by migrants instructed by smuggling organizations to evade arrest even if it means physically fighting their way past American law enforcement.

“As flow and desperation increases by people being constantly apprehended (and expelled), so do the assaults, because people don’t want to get caught,” said El Paso Border Patrol Sector Chief Gloria I. Chavez. “Usually what we get is a lot of guys that confront our agents and try any tactic to overcome that agent including assaulting the agent, making an attempt to take his or her weapon and continuing on.”

Mexican authorities and border experts have told Border Report that transnational criminal organizations – the Mexican drug cartels – are not only charging a pass-through fee to migrants but have begun to replace mom-and-pop type smugglers with hardened gang members.

The result is migrants increasingly being treated like merchandise – such as the two Ecuadorian toddlers dropped over the border wall and abandoned in March – and warned they will be charged more money if they get deported.

“Transnational criminal organizations encourage people to climb (the border wall). They use ladders to allow them to climb to the top, then they pull the ladder, leaving the person stuck at the top to figure out how to descend,” Chavez said. “Migrants themselves have also been convinced to fight, to ‘not let yourself be caught because this is your third try and we are going to charge you again if you get caught.'”

Walking in the migrants’ shoes

Chavez on Wednesday afternoon invited West Texas and Southern New Mexico journalists to Mount Cristo Rey, a mountain that straddles the U.S.-Mexico border at Sunland Park and Juarez.

The Border Patrol chief said she wanted reporters to experience what it’s like to walk in triple-digit temperatures over the sand and rock of the mountain and relay that to migrants. The smugglers, she said, don’t warn people from Central and South America about these harsh conditions and many end up dead or in need of rescue.

Seventeen migrants have died this year in the El Paso Sector of heat exhaustion, drowning in South El Paso canals or falling off the border wall. Another 201 have been rescued, compared to 40 the previous year.

Chavez and Sunland Park Police Chief Javier Guerra are also making a plea to American citizens in El Paso and Sunland Park not to transport migrants to stash houses for money. The smugglers are known to recruit teen-agers, particularly, on social media.

The iconic cross atop Mount Cristo Reye (center, top) can be seen as U.S. Border Patrol officials prepare to conduct a news briefing on Wednesday. (photo by Julian Resendiz/Border Report)

“We need to stop that. We need to ensure our youth don’t get involved in that type of activity,” Chavez said.

The border wall works, but more technology needed

The El Paso Border Patrol chief declined to answer questions about Vice President Kamala Harris’ planned visit to El Paso this Friday.

When asked what she thinks about the border wall, which has become a politically divisive issue across the country, Chavez was definitive in her answer.

“The border barrier itself is one tool in the toolbox. I tie it selfishly to the officers’ safety because if there was no barrier whatsoever, our agents are at risk and full exposure,” she said. “But when you have a barrier, it gives you that shield. That protection. It’s no different than the fence around your house or your yard.”

She admitted the wall can be breached by ladders and that unauthorized migrants can go around it. But she said it helps the Border Patrol manage the flow of migration more effectively and protects agents from projectiles launched from the Mexican side.

Chavez said the steel bollards wall also allows her agents to identify potential threats on the Mexican side and see what people in the immediate area they’re assigned to guard are doing.

“We are building great relationships with members of our community. We want them to feel safe,” she added. “But (technology) is the key for us to really be successful on this border and make it safe. Technology has given more situational awareness than we could ever imagine.”

That being said, unauthorized migration continues to rise in the sector, with 129,000 “encounters” or apprehensions though June 21, according to the Border Patrol.

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