By Shanna Cummings
As the number of undocumented immigrants making the overland trek through Big Bend territory continues to rise, Culberson County Hospital sees increasing numbers of medical emergencies involving undocumented immigrants. Three incidents occurred in just the past week where several migrants required medical treatment, including a few who were transferred to other area hospitals.
Early in the morning of June 10, a Border Patrol transport vehicle traveling westbound carrying 10 immigrants was pushed off the road east of Van Horn by a tractor trailer, causing it to lose control and roll over several times. The immigrants in the back of the vehicle were not using safety belts, and several received serious injuries from being tossed around during the rollover. The injured, including the driver, were transported to Culberson County Hospital for care, where several were transferred to other area hospitals. The driver and one passenger were airlifted to the hospital, and the rest were transported by ambulance. The driver received treatment for minor injuries at Culberson County Hospital and was later released.
Medical providers at the hospital that morning quickly realized the number and severity of injuries required all hands on deck at the emergency room. The rural health clinic was closed for the day and appointments were rescheduled so providers could tend to the injuries and transfers.
Not many hours later, at 10:00 p.m., Border Patrol agents discovered a moving van behind the McDonalds carrying 33 immigrants packed in the back cargo area suffering from heat-related illnesses with little water and no fresh air. The temperature outside at the time was still near the 100-degree mark. According to the official Border Patrol press release, the Special Operations Group assigned to the event immediately began triage, sending 12 migrants to hospitals and treating the rest on-site. There were no casualties.
A third event took place on Monday June 14, when a vehicle smuggling migrants on Hwy 90 rolled over. Seven passengers and the driver were transported to Culberson Hospital for treatment.
The costs of medical treatment for undocumented immigrants are covered through United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The county covers costs of identifying bodies of deceased migrants found within county boundaries, as well as boarding and legal costs should the sheriff’s department choose to prosecute the human smuggler drivers. Usually, prosecution is left to the federal government, in order to reduce the tax load on Culberson County residents. If drivers and other smugglers are not prosecuted, however, the sheriff’s department cannot hold them or their impounded vehicles, allowing smugglers to continue their business with little delay.