Child dies after US officers rescue group of stranded migrants as illegal crossings from Mexico reach two-year high

Crossings into the Rio Grande from Mexico have increased this year. Credit: AP

A nine-year-old child has died after becoming stranded on an island on the Mexican side of the Rio Grande river where growing numbers of migrant families are illegally crossing into the US to seek asylum.

The child was with two other migrants who were found unresponsive by Del Rio Sector Marine Unit patrol agents on March 20.

Agents said they immediately began administering first aid while transporting them to shore.

Two of them, a mother from Guatemala and her three-year-old child from Mexico, regained consciousness, the Marine Unit said in a statement.

"Agents attempted life saving efforts on the second child, a nine-year-old from Mexico and transferred care to the Eagle Pass Fire Department’s Emergency Medical Services," the statement continued.

"The child remained unresponsive and was pronounced deceased by medical professionals.

"We extend our deepest condolences to the family and friends of this small child," Del Rio Sector Chief Patrol Agent, Austin L Skero II said.

"During these hard times our agents remain resilient, and I am extremely proud of their efforts to preserve human life."

Roma, in Texas' Rio Grande Valley, is the latest epicentre of illegal crossings, where growing numbers of migrants, including unaccompanied children, are entering the United States to seek asylum.

More than 16,000 unaccompanied children were in government custody on Thursday, including about 5,000 in substandard US Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) facilities, according to the Associated Press.

US authorities reported more than 100,000 encounters on the southern border in February, the highest since a four-month streak in 2019.

Inflatable boats and rafts have transported Central American migrants, some of them children travelling alone, to the US shore.

Reporters for the Associated Press in Roma observed about 100 people in six trips dropped off on rafts in just one hour.

Many of those were families with toddlers and children as young as seven travelling alone.

They wear numbered yellow plastic wristbands with large black letters reading 'Entregas (Deliveries)', an apparent mechanism for smugglers to keep track of migrants they are ferrying across the river that separates Texas and Mexico.

Families with toddlers are among the arrivals. Credit: AP

Central American migrants had previously favoured a nearby area to cross but a wall built during the Trump administration has pushed them closer to Roma, where the channel is relatively narrow but the current is brisk.

The numbers of illegal and unsafe crossings are increasing, according to CBP, that said it has rescued more than 500 migrants attempting to illegally enter the US since October 1, 2020.

It is the highest level since 2019 when the tragedy of such crossings was brought to light by the death of a Salvadoran man and his infant daughter, which prompted the resignation of John Sanders, acting head of CBP.

President Joe Biden, whom many migrants see as more welcoming than his predecessor, dismissed suggestions on Thursday that his administration’s immigration policies are responsible for the rising numbers in 2021.

He said the government will take steps to more quickly move hundreds of migrant children and teenagers out of cramped detention facilities.

The route is narrow and currents are strong. Credit: AP

The Biden administration expels nearly all single adults without an opportunity to seek asylum under pandemic-related powers declared under a public health law.

But six of 10 people in migrant families encountered by authorities in February were allowed to stay in the US to seek asylum.

A 17-year-old from El Salvador told the Associated Press he left home because he felt threatened by gangs and believes Biden is sympathetic to migrants.

Asked how he knew of Biden’s positions, he said, "people who talk".

Maynor Cruz, 29, said Biden’s policies had nothing do with his decision to leave San Pedro Sula, Honduras, about two months ago, but he heard that families with young children were being allowed to remain in the United States.

Authorities say family expulsions have been limited by Mexico’s reluctance to accept some of them, particularly from the Rio Grande Valley.

CBP reported that it took 681 unaccompanied children into custody on Wednesday. That total excludes Mexicans, who are typically retuned immediately.