Eagle Pass Requests Refrigerators to Store Migrant Bodies after Drownings Overwhelm Mortuaries

A massive surge in migrant drownings along the southern U.S. border has “overwhelmed local funeral homes and mortuaries in Eagle Pass, Texas. According to the agency’s chief, the crisis has required the border town to request more refrigerators to store bodies. 

“There are so many bodies being recovered that the morticians are asking for assistance,” said Manuel Mello III, Eagle Pass Fire Department Chief. “I had never seen so many drownings like we’re seeing right now.”

“We do a body recovery daily,” continued Mello. “It’s very traumatic for my personnel.”

Along the border, the Del Rio sector has seen over 376,000 migrant encounters since October of 2021, averaging almost 1,100 per day, according to Customs and Border Protection (CBP) statistics. Along the entire border, more than 1.8 million counters have happened over the past 11 months. 

Two weeks ago, 53 migrants were apprehended, and 13 died while trying to cross the Rio Grande into the United States, according to CBP.

“Sometimes you’ll be walking in an area where the water will never go above your knee, but all of a sudden, you’ll have a drop of about 10, 12 feet,” said Mello. “If you’re carrying a baby, you’re going to go down 10 or 12 feet with that baby.”

Chief Mello said that several children died recently while crossing the river. “We had a three-month-old baby; we had a three-year-old baby brother that passed away. The uncle was trying to cross. He fell into a deep hole in the river, let go of the babies. The babies drowned.”

When the chief joined the fire department more than 25 years ago, there would only be 12 body recoveries per year. Currently, there are about 30 a month, Mello explained. 

“I don’t see any end in sight.”

He continued, “I would like to see the federal government jump in and help out in whatever way they can. If they could at least stop this migration, that would be awesome.”

Mello said that Maverick County, where Eagle Pass is located, is predicted to have 300 body recoveries this year if it continues at the pace it is currently seeing. Eagle Pass has two reserve trucks and four ambulances, “But those four trucks, they get overwhelmed every single day.”

More emergency calls taking toll on mental health

The chief said his office receives 7,000 emergency calls in a typical year. Last year, the department received 8,500 calls and was on track to meet or exceed the figure again this year. Since last October, the CBP has conducted almost 19,000 search and rescue efforts, compared to fewer than 5,000 in the fiscal year 2019.

According to Mello, the abnormally high number of recoveries is taking a toll on the mental health of his firefighters, resulting in staffing issues. Workers are experiencing emotional breakdowns and taking more days off. 

“These are young gentlemen, young women are seeing more than any normal person would see in a lifetime,” Mello said. “It’s almost like a war zone.”

As weather along the southern border cools down with lowering fall temperatures and hurricane season starts, Mello is worried that more migrants will cross while the river sees dangerous conditions. “I would ask any government official to come and see what’s going on down here in Eagle Pass. “We’ve got a big issue here in Eagle Pass.”