EAGLE PASS, TEXAS—Pulling “three or four bodies out” of the Rio Grande in one day is not unheard of for Harish Garcia or his colleagues at the Eagle Pass fire station near the border of Mexico, he says.
“Before all the immigration started with people crossing and everything, we would still get [dead bodies in the river], but it was very uncommon,” Garcia tells The Daily Signal in a recent interview, noting it “was maybe one or two every month” before the spike in illegal crossings.
“Regardless of how we feel or what we think, it’s a job that needs to get done and it needs to get done efficiently,” Garcia, a firefighter and EMT, adds. Still, he says there are “a lot of feelings” when he and his team are pulling minors out of the water.
“I would say it’s the younger patients, the kids, the pediatric patients, anywhere from 10 years old to even 5-year-olds that you kind of get that feeling when you’re getting them out of the water that you know they had nothing to do with going into the water and they didn’t know any better, they were being placed in that situation,” Garcia says.
The firehouse is only 1 mile from the border. In addition to body recoveries in the Rio Grande, Garcia and his colleagues conduct rescue missions in the river.
“The river’s so misleading,” firefighter and paramedic Luis Barrientos says of the Rio Grande. “You could be in a foot of water and then, as you’re walking, you just go straight down, and you get swept away.”
Border Patrol or the Texas Department of Public Safety will often pull the migrants from the water or find them on a small island in the river, and then EMTs or paramedics like Barrientos render first aid, he explains.
“Unfortunately, we do sometimes catch them in cardiac arrest,” Barrientos says, adding that hypothermia is also an issue during the colder months.
“It’s almost a norm … to be going out there and dealing with the border crisis, with the patients there,” he says.
In his 21 years of working for the Eagle Pass Fire Department, Fire Marshal Eleazar Cuevas says he has “never seen” so many “calls in a day” responding to illegal immigrants.
The firefighters and EMTs who work at the station not only respond to situations involving illegal aliens in the river but also along the highway and at Firefly, a large, temporary illegal alien processing center opened under the Biden administration.
The fire department does “respond a lot of times” to the medical needs of “all the immigrants” at Firefly, located about 12 miles from the station, Cuevas says.
“It’s a toll on the guys,” the fire marshal explains, “because, I mean, every single run that we go out there, it’s an approximate, about two hours from when they receive the call to when they get back to the station because of the distance, because of the treatment that they have to do, go back to the hospital, do their reports, and then come back to the station.”
The challenge, according to Garcia, is “once you drive out [to Firefly] you don’t know what’s going to happen out here in the city, whether we’re going to have a fire or whether we have more EMS calls coming in,” he says.
While Cuevas says the station has always performed rescue and recovery missions on the Rio Grande, before the surge of illegal aliens seeking to cross the border, “we could have gone a month, two months, without responding to the river.”
Amid the surge of crossings, the station was getting about six calls a day to the border and to the illegal alien processing center, the marshal says, but the calls “actually diminished in this [past] couple of weeks.”
Illegal crossings into Eagle Pass slowed significantly since early January after the Texas National Guard assumed control of Shelby Park, one of the central crossing points in the city. Guardsmen have built a makeshift barrier along the river using shipping containers and razor wire, and have also strung concertina wire along the river, making it challenging for illegal aliens to enter Eagle Pass.
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