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Drowning deaths of several migrants at US-Mexico border heightens tensions even more


A mother and her two children drowned over the weekend trying to cross the Rio Grande River from Mexico into Texas. Their deaths underscore the painful human cost of the political conflict at the border. Stephania Corpi of Texas Public Radio has been learning more about the family. Thank you for joining us.

STEPHANIA CORPI, BYLINE: Hi, Ari. Thanks for having me.

SHAPIRO: What can you tell us about the mother and her two young children who drowned?

CORPI: Well, according to local shelters, Victerma de la Sancha arrived in Piedras Negras on Friday night with her children, 10-year-old Yorlei Rubi and Jonathan Agustin, who was 8 years old. They immediately tried to cross the Rio Grande to Eagle Pass on a dangerous and a very cold night. They ended up drowning. Her sister Monica and son Victor survived. The survivors were rescued by Grupo Beta, the humanitarian branch of the Mexican National Migration Institute.

SHAPIRO: Have you been able to learn where they began their journey and where they were headed?

CORPI: Well, we've learned that they have family in North Carolina, and they were likely trying to head that way when they arrived at Piedras Negras from the State of Mexico, which is around 800 miles from the border. It's not clear how they traveled there. De la Sancha's sister, Monica, told local media here they were traveling with their children to escape the violence they faced in their hometown, which has one of the highest rates of femicides and is largely under the control of drug cartels like the Familia Michoacana.

SHAPIRO: We've been hearing for the past few years about more people arriving at the border from Central America and Venezuela and fewer from Mexico. Is that now changing?

CORPI: Violence in Mexico has been displacing more and more people. I spoke with Madre Isabel Turcios. She's from Frontera Digna, the only shelter available across the Eagle Pass border on the Mexican side. She told me they have no record of de la Sancha Cerros' family staying with them.

ISABEL TURCIOS: (Speaking Spanish).

CORPI: She says, "the family didn't come through here. When people come here, then we have a chance to warn them how dangerous the river is." Madre Isabel wishes she had the chance to warn them how policies change and how the river works. The currents can be very fast and very dangerous.

SHAPIRO: You mentioned policies changing. The Biden administration has taken action to try to stop Texas Governor Greg Abbott and Texas officials from blocking federal border agents' access to the Riverside Park in Eagle Pass, very near where this family drowned. Can you tell us about that?

CORPI: Sure. These drownings occurred a couple of days after Texas took control of the park. The state has barred Border Patrol agents from the area. Yesterday the Biden administration said Texas had until the end of the day to let their agents in. Texas did not change its policy and continues to say it has the authority here given what it calls the White House's failures to control the border. Now, the Justice Department says now this family had already drowned when Texas National Guardsmen refused to give Border Patrol agents access to the river. The Justice Department has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to order Texas to allow Border Patrol agents back into Shelby Park, and the White House has filed several other lawsuits challenging Texas policy on the border. Latest news are Texas authorities arrested several migrants at the park last night and charged them with criminal trespassing. These are the first arrests of migrants since Texas took control of the area.

SHAPIRO: That is Texas Public Radio's Stephania Corpi speaking with us from Mexico City. Thank you for your reporting.

CORPI: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Stephanie Corpi
Stephania Corpi
Alejandra Marquez Janse is a producer for NPR's evening news program All Things Considered. She was part of a team that traveled to Uvalde, Texas, months after the mass shooting at Robb Elementary to cover its impact on the community. She also helped script and produce NPR's first bilingual special coverage of the State of the Union – broadcast in Spanish and English.
Justine Kenin is an editor on All Things Considered. She joined NPR in 1999 as an intern. Nothing makes her happier than getting a book in the right reader's hands – most especially her own.
Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.