DEL RIO, Texas (SBG) — Along the southern border, there is a feeling of heartbreak over the loss of those working to protect it. More than a dozen border agents committed suicide in 2022, and now, there is a growing push to prevent more tragedies.
This past December, three border agents died by suicide in just three weeks, bringing the total for 2022 to 14 suicides. That ties the record since the agency began tracking the numbers.
Among them: Agent Robert Boatright, who left behind a wife and two children. Boatright served 10 years on the U.S. Border Patrol and loved ones wrote, "his devotion to law enforcement...allowed him to do all the things he loved, helping people in need, directly or indirectly, stranger or friend."
Boatright's memory is a motivation for Rep. Tony Gonzales, R-Texas, who's taking action to prevent suicides.
"He was a veteran; his oldest son is a Marine," he said. "You're talking about people who love this country and yet he's no longer here."
We asked why he believes there's been an increase in suicide among border agents. He told us, "the border crisis is the worst it's ever been."
Rep. Gonzales represents the region that consistently has the highest number of illegal border crossings. Over the last five years, it has seen a 2,940% increase in illegal crossings.
To get a sense of the reality on the southern border, we visited Del Rio, Texas, and found a community at times overwhelmed, including those tasked with keeping it safe.
Jason Owens, chief of the U.S. Border Patrol, Del Rio, Texas Sector, told us many migrants cross for the purpose of turning themselves in to law enforcement.
"When that happens, we have to collapse our operations," he told us. "We're not able to be out on patrol looking for the criminals and the smugglers."
Instead, he said, some agents are stuck processing paperwork in those cases, while others find themselves on tragic recovery missions, like a horrific day on boat patrol in Eagle Pass. Agents recovered the bodies of a 3-year-old and a 5-year-old.
"They also found an infant that they recovered and did CPR for several minutes and ultimately that baby passed away," said Owens. "Can you imagine seeing something like that and then you have to go home like nothing happened?"
The emotional impact is a heavyweight, and now, members of Congress want to make sure if the burden is too much to carry, agents are comfortable to come forward and ask for help.
That's why they introduced the Taking Action to Prevent Suicide, or "TAPS" Act, which would create a task force to examine suicide prevention by CBP personnel and update suicide education and prevention programs.
The hope is that it will cut down on the stigma of asking for help.
Brandon Judd is the President of the National Border Patrol Council. He says that stigma is very common.
"The thing we constantly hear is that 'I don't want to come to the agency and let them know because I am going to lose pay, I'm going to lose my law enforcement authority, and everybody is going to know what's going on.'" said Judd.
For now, border agents keep showing up at a job that has changed drastically, but still centers on keeping the country safe, while those close to them beg the government for new policies and more resources to help keep them safe.