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How Border Patrol and Sonora’s collaborative effort help rescue migrants as 911 calls skyrocket

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Posted at 4:00 PM, Aug 13, 2021

PHOENIX — Preliminary federal government data reports 210,000 migrant encounters in the month of July at the border, passing the previous record number of 170,000 in March.

Federal officials say with all of those people crossing the desert in the middle of summer the number of rescues has skyrocketed.

“This is the worst summer. For the 14 years I've been in, seven years here in the sector this seems to be the combination of the hottest summer and then we’re having a surge in activity,” stated Ryan Riccucci.

Riccucci is the deputy patrol agent in charge of the Arizona Air Coordination Center (911 call center) in Tucson.

Riccucci says more than 40 rescue calls come into the 911 call center serving the Border Patrol’s Tucson Sector every day. He says the rescue calls often come one right after the other.

It’s a process that takes attention to detail and cutting-edge technology.

“Like a video game because they can see each other on the map. Without this, you'd have to stop, get GPS coordinates, call each other on the radio, look at a map. Not, no more, we are truly leveraging technology for self-organized, self-initiated operations for border security in search and rescue, like never before,” stated Riccucci.

Whether up in the mountains or out in the desert, agents in the 911 call center can see each other's locations and share that information with their partners.

“We're a link in the EMS chain to coordinate search and rescue, or also provide a common operational picture of what's going on in the field for our agents conducting operations, and then how to match when agents are calling for air support to match the best available capability to the request,” said Riccucci.

He says in the busy summer season, the majority of their 911 requests are for search and rescue.

“We have to coordinate the rescue, figure out where they are, what’s the best asset, how urgent it is and then try to triage when you have 20-30 calls a day you have limited resources on how to figure out who to go to first.”

Once the agents get the 911 call they coordinate between the caller and the agent out in the field.

“When we get a call for 911 and people need help, it’s no longer an immigration issue, we have a responsibility to do our due diligence and try to save that person whoever it is,” expressed Riccucci.

But the collaboration to save lives goes beyond borders.

This is the C5i center in Sonora, Mexico, where they help coordinate rescues with border patrol in the Tucson and Yuma sectors.

“We have direct phone lines to connect with CBP or BORSTAR,” said Ricardo Sarabia.

Sarabia manages the center in San Luis Rio Colorado, a border town with Yuma, Arizona. He says many times their cell towers get 911 calls from people in America first.

“We use the Emergency Location System,” said Sarabia.

Sarabia says not only do they share a similar system with Border Patrol but they’ve also been trained in Arizona by Customs and Border Protection and have received GPS devices for their rescue groups out in the field.

“It's been historic,” said Guadalupe Lares-Núñez.

Lares-Núñez coordinates the C5i Sonora at a state level, she says from November to June, they have helped the border patrol to rescue almost 700 people in the U.S.

The efforts are needed now more than ever, says Hector Servin de la Mora who manages the 911 call center in Nogales, Sonora.

Servin de la Mora says this has been one of the busiest summers for the 911 call center in the Sonora-Mexico border.

“To give you some perspective, we have recorded 26 reports in February, 51 in March, 60 in April, 94 in May and so on,” stated Servin de la Mora.