By A. Daniel Bodine
EL PASO, TX–“What would you yourself do?” the stranger in the hallway outside the El Paso City Council chambers asked me while discussing a local news incident last week. “No work; no income. A family to feed. Just what would you do if placed in the same situation?”
It’s an age-old question he put forth, yes. Especially concerning the long and dangerous journeys desperate Latinos in Mexico and in Central and South America (coming into Texas and the other Southwestern states) dare to make sometimes in order to earn a living, or make a new start for their families.
And while recent deaths continue to pile up tragic numbers, it seems no one is any closer to finding an humanitarian answer for it after all these years. And violence from warring drug cartels in Mexico and unexpected weather extremes are simply compounding it. Prior to the spikes in recent years U.S. Border Patrol already was putting the numbers around 600 each year.
The Summer of 2011 already has been an especially difficult one. And the calendar isn’t even a full month into it yet. Accounts of three especially noteworthy immigrant deaths for Far West Texas’s Trans-Pecos region follow below:
**The full story behind two drownings in El Paso July 4 still hasn’t been released yet, presumed partial mysteries two weeks later.
The local Mexican Consulate’s office continues to search for friends and relatives of the family in Mexico who might be able to identify the body of a man believed to be a woman’s husband, and father of her three children–one of them now dead, a young daughter.
Earlier he’d left with the girl in the first step of a plan he had to take them all across, investigators have determined. Take them across and establish a new life.
Their 5-year-old daughter was pronounced dead in a hospital after being pulled from the swift waters of the Franklin Canal the evening of July 4, authorities said. The Franklin is part of an irrigation complex off the Rio Grande beginning in the city’s Upper Valley, and runs almost 30 miles.
The girl was identified by her mother, reportedly of Juarez, on Wednesday, July 7, after someone alerted her to news reports that something tragic had happened across in El Paso involving a little girl with a red-and-white dress Monday evening. A photo of the dress had been released by the police department.
Edith Aguilar approached Customs and Border Protection officers at the Paso del Norte Bridge then and reported her husband and daughter missing. She was put in contact with El Paso police detectives, and at least the identity of one of the two people in the mystery was solved.
The girl was identified by her mother as Eva Jaredzi Beltran-Aguilar. She’d been found floating in the water at a location identified as the canal’s headgates at Calleros Court.
The site and time of discovery were almost two miles downstream and about 25 minutes following an earlier incident involving another person being seen in the canal.
Emergency fire department rescuers responded to Border Patrol reports that they’d spotted a man in the same swift waters of the canal. Much of the canal’s banks are concrete and highly steeped. Tall chain-link fences are designed to keep people out; camera monitors are scattered along it.
A story in the Wednesday, July 6, El Paso Times reported that “Border Patrol saw the man, who was wearing jeans and a red shirt, on a surveillance camera, actually diving into the canal.”
When rescuers arrived and found him, they threw him a rope to grab so they could pull him up, “but the man didn’t grab it.” Instead he had his attention on something else, and in the process was swept away.
“At no time did they (the agents) see the girl in his arms,” said Fire Dept. Lt. Kris Menendez, one of the first 15 firefighters to arrive that Monday. “We’re not too sure when and how she came into the picture. We’re assuming it was a man and his daughter. He already had something set in his mind (when the rope was thrown to him).”
Subsequently the body of a man believed to be the guy, the father, the man seen struggling in the water, was recovered that following Wednesday in the canal waters–when it finally floated to the surface. It had been snagged underneath on something– the only reason it wasn’t carried much further, it was reported.
Apparently, too, it’d been ripped apart so bad by the swift currents–throwing it into the concrete sides of the canal and its abutments–authorities believed it could not be recognized. Not even by his wife.
The girl’s father was said to have had on a red shirt, for instance; the body found was shirtless. Deciding not to put the woman to more grief for a fruitless cause, other ways of identifying the body were being sought.
The mother admitted to Consulate investigators that because of their economic condition her husband had come up with the plan to take all of them across to El Paso, where he thought he could find work. Monday, July 4, he left with the 5-year-old girl.
He was to return for her and their two younger boys later. The only thing he hadn’t planned on, Mrs. Aguilar said, was the canal. It was not known even if he knew it existed.
**About two weeks earlier, several hundred miles downstream in the huge Chihuahuan Desert’s Trans-Pecos region, a search party in Big Bend National Park found another illegal immigrant dead—this time of heat exhaustion and dehydration.
It was the tragic ending of a story that involved a human trafficker, acting as guide, who deserted a group when confronted with the horrific conditions in the mountainous desert terrain in the Big Bend region.
The body was turned over to Hector Raul Acosta, consul at the Mexican Consulate in Presidio, who is attempting to locate the victim’s family in his country of origin, using information he’s getting from others who were with him as they attempted to cross illegally into the United States.
Events for the public began unfolding June 15, a Wednesday, when three stragglers of what were originally believed to be a group of seven people showed up at the Rio Grande Village in the park asking for help.
The three said they’d been lost and without water since earlier that Sunday. The “coyote,” or human smuggler who’d led them across the river and into the park, had deserted and gone back into Mexico, they said.
The park consists of over 800,000 acres of rugged mountainous land both loved and cursed for its remoteness and majestic beauty. But summer temperatures can be deadly. A story in the Big Bend Sentinel reported it was 115 degrees in the park that day the men came into the village.
Both park rangers and Brewster County sheriff deputies responded in a search effort for remaining members of the party, and about three hours later found two of them, both alive. One, however, was transported to Big Bend Regional Hospital in Alpine for treatment of heat exhaustion.
Attempting to backtrack with information obtained from the two, rescuers searched the rest of the day, and from 6 a.m. beginning the next day, before finally finding the body of the third.
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