For years, immigration advocates complained that U.S. Border Patrol agents were more focused on stopping border-crossers than helping people who got lost in the vast, often deadly terrain of the borderlands, USA Today reports. A renewed emphasis on rescuing migrants — along with historically high numbers of asylum-seekers at the border — is leading to more rescues. Statistics from U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the agency overseeing Border Patrol, show a sharp increase in border rescues: From 5,336 rescued migrants in fiscal year 2020 to 12,857 in fiscal year 2021 to 22,014 in the last fiscal year ending last September. "It's increased, there's no question about it," Vicente Rodriguez of San Diego-based Águilas del Desierto, a non-profit that coordinates with Border Patrol to save migrants. "Border Patrol is more concerned about saving lives than they had been in the past."
Not all are rescued in time: The number of migrant deaths at the border is also up. In fiscal 2021, agents tallied 568 migrant deaths, the highest ever recorded. Some 219 of the deaths were attributed to "environmental exposure-heat," as asylum-seekers trek through blazing terrain in Arizona and Texas. Agents also counted 86 deaths as being "water-related," as migrants attempt to cross canals or the swift-moving Rio Grande, which divides the U.S. and Mexico. Immigration advocates and experts believe the border death toll is much higher, and the federal system for death data long failed to include many border deaths.