U.S. border agents are searching for three children and an adult who are missing after their raft flipped over on the Rio Grande Wednesday night during an attempt to cross the border near Del Rio, two Department of Homeland Security officials said.
The missing include a 9-month-old, a 7-year-old and another child approximately the same age, said the officials, describing the incident on the condition of anonymity to disclose information that has not yet been released by Customs and Border Protection.
Drownings and migrant rescues along the Rio Grande are a regular occurrence, but the dangers have increased in recent weeks because the river is swollen with spring runoff at a moment when record numbers of Central American families are attempting to cross — typically in flimsy dinghies with no safety gear.
Unauthorized border crossings surpassed 103,000 in March, the highest level in a dozen years, and a majority of those arriving are part of family groups. The powerful currents of the Rio Grande have long been a deadly risk to migrants, but they pose an especially grave danger now, because so many small children are making the journey to the U.S. border with their parents.
DHS officials said they did not have information about the nationality of the migrants.
“We are making every effort to locate the missing individuals,” one official said.
According to preliminary accounts, the raft overturned with nine Central American migrants aboard while attempting to cross the river into Texas about 9:45 p.m. Wednesday. Nearby U.S. border agents encountered three members of the group and rescued two others, including a child, who managed to reach a small island in the middle of the river.
The child was taken to a hospital in Eagle Pass, according to one DHS official.
Last year, border agents and CBP rescue teams responded to 4,300 emergencies along the U.S.-Mexico border, according to the agency. CBP recorded 283 deaths in fiscal 2018, down from a peak of 492 in 2005 — a statistic that includes drownings along the river, accidents and the discovery of human remains in desert areas.
Border Patrol agents in the Del Rio sector rescued 10 people, including a 3-year-old, attempting to cross the Rio Grande in a sinking raft on April 26, according to CBP.
On Tuesday, a 16-year-old from Guatemala died in Texas 10 days after crossing the border. Guatemalan officials said the teen fell sick shortly after his arrival and was taken from a U.S. shelter for unaccompanied minors to a Texas hospital. The officials said the teenager had a brain infection and died while receiving treatment.