Braving Rio Grande For Better Life

000913_McNamara_Border CBS

Life may be tough for those living south of the border with thoughts of illegally entering the United States.

But the trip can be fatal, as two illegal immigrants caught on tape found recently when they attempted to cross the Rio Grande from Mexico to Texas.

The men drowned after a feeble rescue attempt by Mexican border patrol officers failed.

"What frustrates me is the fact that we are not seeing any noticeable decrease in the number of people dying," says Daniel Hernandez, Mexican Consul General.

CBS News Correspondent Bob McNamara says more than 700 illegal immigrants have died trying to cross the Mexican border into the U.S. in the last three years alone—often driven by hunger and hard times at home. Many of the victims drowned.

And while U.S. Border Patrol agents are not required to risk their lives in the Rio Grande, some, like Rick Martinez, do.

Martinez recently jumped into the river to save a drowning Honduran smuggler. "Somebody had to go in and [save him even though he was coming into the country illegally]… He's still a person. His life is no less valuable than any one of us."

And yet almost every week more unidentified dead are buried in border town cemeteries.

While the Border Patrol's recent get-tough policy on illegal immigrant smuggling has seen thousands of arrests, some Mexican officials say that's also a reason more illegals are drowning.

"They have to take more dangerous routes and procedures—ways of crossing," Hernandez says.

Now television announcements warning of the river's danger are broadcast on both sides of the border, and a few U.S Border Patrol agents are on jet skis.

"I believe they're really effective," says Mark Sullivan of the Border Patrol. "We've already been able to rescue nine people with them."

And in Laredo, where surveillance cameras often see illegals fall into border canals and swept to their deaths, U.S. agents are now training Mexican police and rescue workers on how to save lives from their side of the border.

But dangerous or not the illegals still go into the river. Twenty-four men from a Mexican town 400 miles south of the border were arrested after one scary crossing.

"I'm not a good swimmer, but a better life," said one, "makes me risk my life."

The captured men will be held overnight and returned to Mexico. But most of them will try again, as soon as the next sunset.


  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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