Migrants in Distress, Who You Gonna Call? CBP!

Of late, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has been getting a lot of negative attention in the media. The vast majority of it is completely unjustified. But whenever immigration tragedies happen – like the recent death of a mother and three children, in the desert near McAllen, Texas – the mainstream media delights in portraying CBP officers as heartless enforcers, indifferent to the plight of immigrants.

However, nothing could be further from the truth. Most people don’t know it but the Border Patrol maintains an elite special unit dedicated entirely to finding and rescuing people in distress – including lost or injured migrants. It’s known as BORSTAR – that’s an acronym for Border Patrol Search Trauma and Rescue.

Membership in BORSTAR is open only to experienced Border Patrol Agents who undergo a rigorous selection course similar to those required for joining elite military units. Team members earn advanced emergency medicine qualifications and receive specialized training in high and low angle mountain rescue, water rescue, helicopter medical evacuation and other, related skills.

But BORSTAR is only one aspect of CBP’s rescue capability. The agency maintains a network of rescue beacons along the southern border that are regularly monitored by federal law enforcement officers. The CBP Air and Marine Operations Division regularly conducts airborne and waterborne patrols to locate stranded migrants. And in 2017 the Border Patrol launched a public information campaign called the “Border Safety Initiative,” which is aimed at, “warning migrants of the dangers of entering the country illegally.”

All CBP enforcement personnel receive first aid instruction as part of their basic training curriculum. And, according to the latest figures available, CBP personnel rescued 4,000 people in FY 2016 alone. And those figures don’t even include the situations where off-duty CBP officers render assistance when they come upon random crises, as happened when CBP Officer Daina Lambert aided the victims of roadway accident in 2018.

The United States has massive borders. And people seeking a better life in America will always be tempted to take unreasonable risks in order to cross our frontiers. However, the mainstream media, open-borders politicians and radical groups like the American Civil Liberties Union should stop blaming CBP for immigration tragedies. The truth is that there are thousands of migrants who are alive today only because dedicated men and women working for CBP put their own lives at risk to rescue them when they ran into trouble.

The dangers inherent in attempts to enter the U.S. unlawfully are an incident of geography. They have nothing to do with bad immigration policies or malevolent immigration enforcement personnel. But, sadly, even the unsung heroes of CBP can’t save everyone who makes a tragic misstep in the unforgiving borderlands – migrants attempting to jump the border are many, and CBP rescuers are comparatively few.

About Author


Matthew J. O’Brien joined the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) in 2016. Matt is responsible for managing FAIR’s research activities. He also writes content for FAIR’s website and publications. Over the past twenty years he has held a wide variety of positions focusing on immigration issues, both in government and in the private sector. Immediately prior to joining FAIR Matt served as the Chief of the National Security Division (NSD) within the Fraud Detection and National Security Directorate (FDNS) at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), where he was responsible for formulating and implementing procedures to protect the legal immigration system from terrorists, foreign intelligence operatives, and other national security threats. He has also held positions as the Chief of the FDNS Policy and Program Development Unit, as the Chief of the FDNS EB-5 Division, as Assistant Chief Counsel with U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement, as a Senior Advisor to the Citizenship and Immigration Services Ombudsman, and as a District Adjudications Officer with the legacy Immigration & Naturalization Service. In addition, Matt has extensive experience as a private bar attorney. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in French from the Johns Hopkins University and a Juris Doctor from the University of Maine School of Law.


  1. avatar

    The Democratic candidates claim that insurance won’t be given to illegals, they will have to buy it. With what? Play money? Illegals are by every measure far lower in education and income levels and very large percentages are receiving some kind of government assistance already. Are we to believe that a family of two adults and four kids will be paying full freight for an insurance policy? A huge percentage are already on Medicaid. It’s nonsense that they will pay anything close to what they will cost. The excuse is if they don’t have insurance then they go to the emergency room, so we have to make a choice on which to do. There’s another choice. Remove them from the country so they are not draining our healthcare system further.