Border Patrol turns to high-tech solutions to rescue stranded migrants

Securing the border is a political debate that has raged for years. But lives are at stake, and in spite of the best efforts to reduce illegal immigration, migrants come and they're dying in record numbers.

There are thousands of miles of the southern border, which consists mostly of desert wilderness. But the dream of life in the United States continues to inspire many to overcome the fear of dehydration, injury or even death to navigate wilderness not meant to be crossed.

A highway in Mexico that can be seen from inside the U.S. is where many smugglers will leave people who will then have to find a way to make it through treacherous terrain to get into the United States.

Eyewitness News spent the day with U.S. Border Patrol agents hiking from the border with Mexico, following an active smuggling route which is part of the 60 miles patrolled by the San Diego Sector.

It is not an easy hike, even in the best of weather conditions. That's a fact smugglers often keep from the people they claim to be helping.

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"They straight up lie to people and tell 'em, 'Oh it's fine, it's a couple hours, it's an easy hike' and then before you know it people are having a hard time. The smugglers don't care. They leave people behind, they'll abandon them," said Jeff Stephenson, a border patrol agent.

Being abandoned in this area is proving to be more deadly than ever. In all of fiscal year 2017, there were four deaths reported by agents in San Diego County.

Through June of this year that death toll is 23, with three months remaining - a staggering number given that rescues have also spiked, 192 so far compared to 60 in all of last year.

The paths traveled are tough enough, but one of the difficult challenges for so many people is they actually crawl on their hands and knees through thick brush and rock trying to avoid detection. It is incredibly dangerous.

And this year, agents say they are finding family units making the dangerous trek outnumber single adults. And when you add children to this mix, the danger intensifies. It would seem impossible to find a child in brush so thick.

"Once you start adding kids to the mix, they can't travel as fast, they can't travel as quickly. They succumb to the weather much easier than adults do," said Scott Garrett, the acting deputy chief patrol agent.

With those numbers in mind, Border Patrol is evolving. Each agent carries a special cellphone able to plot coordinates and more efficiently search large areas. Ground sensors are placed on frequently used trails.

Surveillance cameras using artificial intelligence help identify human movement and quickly provide locations to agents and distressed migrants can also activate emergency beacons in four locations with maximum visibility.

Even drones are available to provide immediate needs, giving rescue personnel a chance to render proper aid.

"We just do our best to protect America while at the same time keeping the people that are trying to accomplish their dreams, trying to keep 'em safe. Give 'em an opportunity," said Miguel Pena, a border patrol agent.

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