OCOTILLO WELLS, Calif. (Border Report) — There’s not much to Ocotillo Wells but a gas station, a few mobile homes and a desert museum that is closed most of the time. The community is wedged between Highways 8 and 98 just as you drop from the mountains into the Imperial Valley desert, about 100 miles east of San Diego.
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The surrounding area, especially toward the south, is a majestic landscape where temperatures climb well over 100 degrees on a daily basis during the summer.
In spite of the excessive heat and other dangers, this is where undocumented migrants have been crossing into the United States in record numbers this year.
And this has led to higher than normal rescues.
“Currently we’ve had 240 rescues compared to last year when we had 84, that’s an increase of 185 percent,” said Border Patrol Agent John Mendoza. “Don’t cross, it’s not worth putting your life in danger, not only your life but agents that are performing those rescues,” he said.
Not only are rescues up, but fatalities as well.
This year, 31 migrants died while attempting to cross into the United States through the El Centro Sector, which is 70 linear miles long parallel to the southern border.
Seven of the deaths have occurred in the All American Canal.
Mendoza says all the people rescued and the ones who died had one thing in common.
“Ill-prepared, lack of water, no proper attire like clothing or shoes, maybe they didn’t know they were going to be dealing with waterways, maybe they didn’t know how to swim,” he said
Migrant advocates blame Title 42, a public health mandate issued by the Trump Administration to keep people out of the country during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. It allows border agents to send migrants back to Mexico as soon as they are caught, often leading to repeated attempts to cross the border.
The Biden White House has yet to rescind this order.
These advocates also say smugglers are taking immigrants to more remote and isolated regions along the border such as Ocotillo Wells increasing the danger.
Mendoza also blames smugglers for the higher number of crossings and ultimately rescues and deaths.
“They don’t care about the migrants focusing on profits instead, they couldn’t care less about the people’s lives, the people they are putting across the border.”