RIO GRANDE VALLEY — The illegal immigrants that walked past us on a trail south of McAllen, Texas, on Friday had been waiting for more than an hour for the last members of their group to catch up. The sun had already set and Emerson, the quasi-leader from Honduras who was traveling with his wife and kids, told me and U.S. Border Patrol agent Chris Cabrera they were lost.
Emerson was worried because the lost members had almost no water and were carrying small children. After Cabrera, a medic with Border Patrol, called back to U.S. Customs and Border Protection to tell them what was taking place, we set out to find the lost group. Cabrera, who is also vice president of the National Border Patrol Council Local 3307, and I had originally set ourselves up on a trail that goes through private land. So much illegal foot traffic runs through the owner's land that he built signs to point migrants where they need to go to turn themselves in to Border Patrol.
Once we were further down the trail, Cabrera used a flashlight to try to see if there were tracks from the lost group. The problem was there were too many footprints in the sand, making it impossible to tell if they belonged to those we were searching for. A few minutes later, we saw the small flicker of a flashlight up ahead.
"Is that them?" I asked.
After we got closer, we discovered it was a different group of illegal aliens with small children in tow. We continued down the path and ran into another group, and then another, and then another. We passed a total of five different groups of illegal aliens before finding the ones we were looking for. While we walked back, two women holding very young children, one being seven-months-old, were having trouble keeping up with the rest of the group. Cabrera offered them his water and carried the seven-month-old the rest of the way.
Once we brought the lost group back to where we had started, and merged with another group that came from taking a different route, Cabrera told them to continue following the path to turn themselves in. In the time we had left, more immigrants had gathered, waiting to be told where to go.
Cabrera and I spent around three hours in the area, and in that time we saw 263 people make their way from the Rio Grande River to the site Border Patrol recently created to streamline the processing of the illegal immigrants. The groups were comprised of families, unaccompanied minors, and small children, some only a few months old. Coughing and sneezing among the different crowds was a common sound.
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Unaccompanied minors said their parents were either back in their home countries or they were already in the United States. Among them were an 8-year-old girl and boys ranging from 13 to 17-years-old. Their intended destinations included Houston and North Carolina.
Their parents sent them to the United States alone because they didn't have enough money to pay the cartels for the entire family to make the trek.
In February, CBP apprehended 100,441 people trying to enter the United States along the southwest border, a 28 percent increase over January 2021. CBP completed 72,113 expulsions from the border under the CDC's guidance for Title 42 authority. Of the 100,441 apprehended individuals, 29,792 were unaccompanied children, with 2,942 of the minors being under 12-years-old and 26,850 were aged 13-17-years-old. The dramatic increase in illegal foot traffic comes after President Joe Biden reversed several policies from the Trump administration.
Each time I asked the illegal immigrants if they liked Biden, in my very poor Spanish, it was always met with an enthusiastic yes:
- "He tries to help people and support those of us who need it."
- "He is giving us an opportunity to be reunited with our children who are in the north."
- "Yes, we like Biden. He supports the children a lot."
- "We like Biden because we can help our children get ahead in life and where we are from in our countries, we cannot do that."
- "Yes, we like Biden and we plan on asking for asylum."
"Think about it. This was only three hours in one portion of one sector along the southern border on one day," Cabera said, noting what was happening was a crisis, but "a crisis implies we didn't see it coming. We knew what was going to happen with the removal of [Trump's] policies but no one cared to ask us."
Cabera said more than 700 illegal immigrants turned themselves in to Border Patrol during the shift on Friday when we were staking out the trail. The massive number of people coming across the border has resulted in detention facilities being overcrowded once again.
Indeed the illegal foot traffic in the Rio Grande Valley was not just limited to that one portion south of McAllen. Early on Friday morning, I traveled about 20 minutes to La Joya and drove along the first public road near the border. Sure enough, I came upon a small group of illegal immigrants, which included three unaccompanied minors, who had crossed during the night. They were waiting for Border Patrol to find them so bus transportation could be arranged in order to be processed further inland.
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Border Patrol said in a press release it had apprehended "a group of 102 illegal aliens" around the same area south of La Joya on Wednesday morning, with the crowd consisting "mainly of families and unaccompanied alien children."
The relaxed stance taken by the Biden administration is a black market boom for the cartels. The cartels are able to take more of the immigrants' money now that demand to cross is up, and because Border Patrol is often busy trying to find and process the family units and unaccompanied minors, their drug smugglers have an easier time evading U.S. authorities.
In face of the staggering numbers, the Biden administration has refused to call the ongoing situation a crisis, though their actions indicate their realization of what has been wrought. On Saturday, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas directed the Federal Emergency Management Agency "to support a government-wide effort to safely receive, shelter, and transfer unaccompanied children who make the dangerous journey to the southwest border."