Border Patrol agent saves illegal immigrant from drowning

Routine patrol in Brownsville took a turn for the worse Monday night when Border Patrol agents got the call that illegal immigrants took to the waters of the Brownsville Ship Channel.

"I was told there was an individual in distress so I got my flotation device and I proceeded to the area," said Agent Manuel Barreda.

One man was unable to swim across the channel near the shrimp basin on Highway 48 and was yelling for help.

A group of illegal immigrants could only watch as their friend held on to bags of trash to stay afloat in the frigid water.

"We contacted Coast Guard, but I realized because of the temperature of the water they might not make it in time," said Barreda.

That's when the agent had to make a decision, wait for help or go in and do it himself.

Already strapped into his flotation device, Barreda jumped into the waters in the dead of night.

"I swam out to the individual and I gave him instructions not to grab me. He said he couldn't feel his legs or his arms so I grabbed him under water."

The agent demonstrates what he did next to get the man to shore which included towing him by the arm.

Even with all his training as an agent on boat patrol, after 15 minutes in the water, Barreda wasn't sure he could make the 120 foot swim back to safety.

"I could feel my muscles tensing up."

He changed his position, moving the immigrant in front of him and pushing him toward a fellow agent waiting in shallow water near the bank.

He was counting on his partner to help them make it the rest of the way.

"All through this there was another agent on the edge of the water that helped me mentally stay focused because he kept telling me you're gonna make it man and you'll be fine. That helped put both of us in the right state of mind," said Barreda.

All parties back on land and it was back to business.

The man Agent Barreda had just saved from drowning did not want medical attention and was placed in custody to be deported back to his home country.

"It doesn't matter who they are or where they are from, I am going to try to help them."

This was the second rescue in Agent Barreda's career.

According to Border Patrol, agents in the Rio Grande Valley sector have saved the lives of more than 100 illegal immigrants this year.