TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — The extreme summer heat makes this the most dangerous time of the year for migrants illegally crossing the southern border into Arizona.
Every year, Jonathan Elledge and Border Patrol’s other ‘BORSTAR’ agents respond to hundreds of search and rescue calls for migrants in heat-related distress, with most coming during the summer.
“Over 90 percent of our calls are gonna be heat-related calls,” said Elledge. “You see everything from people who don’t know their own name. They’re taking their clothes off. They’re hugging branches and bushes and things like that, just because now their mental state has been altered.”
BORSTAR (Border Patrol Search, Trauma and Rescue) agents are specialized and well-equipped with medical supplies. However, most Border Patrol agents carry only water and a first aid kit.
That’s changing this summer. Customs and Border Protection is testing ‘Heat Stress’ kits for hundreds of field agents in the Three Points and Casa Grande stations, where the number of migrant deaths is especially high.
The kits are small, but contain electrolyte packets, instant cold packs, cooling towels, sunscreen and disposable emergency blankets for creating shade.
“Though simple, they can be enough to support a desperate individual until more advanced help can arrive,” said John Modlin, CBP Chief Patrol Agent in the Tucson Sector.
Elledge is hopeful the kits will help save lives.
“If our response time is a little extended, this is gonna buy the migrants, the agents, or whoever’s in need, that time,” he said.
Many migrants run out of time, or never call 911 for help.
CBP reports 48 migrant deaths in the Tucson Sector between Oct. 1, 2021 and May 31, 2022.
Most of those migrant remains come here to the Pima County Medical Examiner’s Office: 215 in each of the last two years.
Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Gregory Hess says 2022 is only slightly behind that pace.
“And we’re just starting to get hot,” Hess said. “So I would anticipate that history is a good teacher and we’re going to get quite a few remains this month, is my guess.”
Unfortunately, the migrant death count is an undercount: Many are never found in the desert.
Ryan Fish is an anchor and reporter for KGUN 9 and comes to the Sonoran Desert from California’s Central Coast after working as a reporter, sports anchor and weather forecaster in Santa Barbara. Ryan grew up in the Chicago suburbs, frequently visiting family in Tucson. Share your story ideas and important issues with Ryan by emailing email@example.com or by connecting on Facebook and Twitter.