FACT CHECK: Will Hurd Claims 141 People Drowned In The Rio Grande In 2022

Elias Atienza | Senior Reporter

Former Republican Texas Representative Will Hurd claimed in an Aug. 13 interview that 141 people drowned in the Rio Grande river in 2022.

Verdict: Unsubstantiated

The Missing Migrants Project states that 140 migrants have died from drowning in 2022, though the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has not released its data from FY 2022.

Fact Check:

Hurd, who is running for the Republican presidential nomination, said Aug. 17 that he met the 40,000 donors threshold to qualify for the Aug. 23 GOP primary debate. Hurd is currently polling at 1 percent in New Hampshire, according to RealClearPolitics.

Hurd claimed during an interview with CNN host Jake Tapper that 141 migrants died by drowning in the Rio Grande. Hurd said,” Last year, there was a drowning case, two drowning cases a couple of weeks ago. But, last year, 141 people drowned in the Rio Grande — in the Rio Grande River. And nobody was talking about that.”

This claim appears to be accurate, though the data is incomplete. Check Your Fact looked at deaths recorded by the Missing Migrants Project, which shows 213 migrants died by drowning at the U.S.-Mexico border crossing in 2022. 684 migrants were missing or died.

Screenshot/Missing Migrants Project

A representative from the Missing Migrants Project told Check Your Fact that 140 migrants died by drowning in the Rio Grande in 2022. The representative said, “I confirm that the figure that media got for migrant deaths in the Rio Grande/Rio Bravo in 2022 is correct.”

Experts said that they believe the number is plausible and that the Missing Migrants Project number of 140 migrants dying by drowning appeared to be accurate.

Adam Isacscon, the Director for Defense Oversight at the World Office on Latin America, said that while he couldn’t confirm the 141 migrants died by drowning, he said it was “plausible.” Isacscon pointed to a New York Times article which reported that the Maverick County Sheriff’s Office said there were 77 migrant drownings in 2022 in the county. Maverick County includes Eagle Pass.

“That sector of the river is probably the worst for migrant deaths. But still, throughout Texas, between the river and fast-flowing irrigation canals carrying water from the river, 141 drownings could be accurate,” Isacscon said.

When asked about the Missing Migrants Project saying there were 140 migrants who died by drowning at the Rio Grande, he said, “That sounds right to me, then. IOM’s MMP project does careful work, though they do have to base much of it on secondary sources.”

Erica Schommer, a clinical law professor at St. Mary’s University who teaches at the Immigration and Human Rights Clinic, said that the Missing Migrants Project is a reputable source.

“I believe their numbers are accurate, although still undoubtedly fail to capture all of the deaths along the border. Since Title 42 expulsions were occurring throughout 2022, we know that some individuals made multiple attempts to cross the river, and attempted in different parts of the river, So, if 140 is a higher number than other years, that would make perfect sense to me,” Schommer said.

The CBP has not released its data for FY 2022. The latest data available from CBP is FY 2021, which ran from Oct. 1, 2020 to Sept. 30, 2021, according to the Federal Times. CBP’s FY 2021 data shows that 78 migrants died from water-related causes. A CBP spokesperson said, “I am not sure,” when Check Your Fact asked when the FY 2022 data would be released. (RELATED: Mayorkas Misleads On Border Status During House Judiciary Committee Hearing)

At least 853 migrants died in FY 2022, according to CBS News. The number was referenced in a May 2023 Department of Homeland Security Office of the Inspector General report about how conditions on the southern border were negatively impacting the health and morale of CBP and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) employees.

Check Your Fact reached out to the Texas Department of Safety and the Hurd campaign for comment.

NOTE: This article will be updated when the CBP numbers for FY 2022 are published. The verdict may change or remain the same.

Elias Atienza

Senior Reporter
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