The U.S. Border Patrol is reinforcing infrastructure to help keep immigrants from dying in the desert as they cross the U.S.-Mexico border.
Officials from the Tucson sector say they expect an increase in traffic coming through the desert during the summer and they want to be prepared.
They announced to a group of reporters and immigration activists Wednesday plans to add 10 more emergency beacons in the desert that allow migrants to call for help should they find themselves suffering from heat exhaustion, bitten by a rattlesnake or severely dehydrated. They will also be adding new hoist mechanisms to their helicopters to pluck injured victims from the perilous terrain according to the Associated Press.
“The smugglers are telling people, 'oh it's going to be a short walk, it's not going to be a big deal,' when the reality is you're looking at 114 degree temperatures, this very rugged terrain that you see behind us, and once they cross the border, many times they're abandoned there and left vulnerable to the elements of the desert," Tucson sector chief Manuel Padilla, Jr., told the group.
The beacons are 30-feet-tall and solar powered and are placed in such a way that they are visible for 10 miles with sun reflectors and blue lights. The signs, in three languages, instruct users to push a red button for help. Response times vary but help usually arrives in under an hour.
Padilla told the group that agents found 194 bodies and rescued 802 people from the desert in fiscal year 2013. This year there have already been 38 deaths reported.
While the addition of 10 new beacons will most likely save lives in the Tucson sector they are nothing new to the border patrol. A historical document from the website of the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument — which sits on the Arizona-Mexico border — indicates they have been used as far back as 2001.
Funding for the beacons was increased with a piece of legislation in 2006 called the Border
Death Reduction Act. Bill Frist who was a Republican Senator from Tennessee at the time supported the bill.
“These beacons, I believe, are an absolutely vital link in our border security system … We know that beacons work: [Customs and Border Protection] has already saved dozens of people based entirely on beacon alerts,“ he said.