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'They actively look for us': More agents head to U.S.-Mexico border

HOUSTON – The Department of Homeland Security ordered Customs and Border Protection to speed up the reallocation of 750 border patrol agents to areas dealing with thousands of families and unaccompanied children from Central America.

DHS also seeks to expand Migrant Protection Protocols, which allows the U.S. to send certain migrants back to Mexico while their cases wind through immigration court. Homeland Security Secretary Kirsten Nielsen directed CPB to return “hundreds of additional migrants per day above current rates to Mexico.” 

DHS began this initiative in January and it applies to certain migrants caught illegally crossing the border. DHS said this initiative was necessary to deal with thousands of families and unaccompanied children from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras coming across the southern border.

Prior to this initiative, many Central American families and unaccompanied children were allowed to remain in the U.S. while seeking asylum or while their cases worked through immigration court. DHS reported in 2017, 94,285 family units from Central America were caught coming across the southern border and “99 percent of those individuals remain in the country today.”

Channel 2 Investigates recently visited a portion of the border south of McAllen. We rode with border patrol agent Carlos Ruiz. Ten minutes after driving on to a dirt road that parallels the river, we saw a group of 24 migrants who had just sneaked across the border.

Everyone in the group was from Central America, except for three men who were from Sri Lanka.

As Ruiz was speaking with this group, a border patrol supervisor pulled up and said, “Several more groups were coming this way.” None of the immigrants we saw tried to run or hide when they saw border patrol coming.

“They actively look for us,” Ruiz said. 

“So they're trying; they want to get caught?” asked KPRC Investigator Robert Arnold.

“Yes, they want to get caught,” said Ruiz.

In just under three hours’ time, we saw at least 100 immigrants caught illegally crossing the border, and that was just in one small stretch of the border.

“We cannot keep up; this doesn't stop,” said Ruiz.

All those KPRC spoke with said they are fleeing violence or domestic abuse in their home countries.

“They feel they have a better chance to get a job and the MS-13 gangs bother the kids at school,” Ruiz said, translating for a woman and her daughter who are from El Salvador.

Cities across Texas, from the border to San Antonio to El Paso, are struggling to handle the thousands of immigrants caught illegally crossing the southern border. The federal government reports 75,000 immigrants were caught along the southern border just in the month of February, which DHS reported was the highest monthly number in a decade. 

President Donald Trump has threatened to close the border if the situation doesn't ease. President Trump also called on Mexico to do more to stem the number of Central American immigrants coming through the country.

The U.S. recently signed an agreement with three Central American countries to work more closely on combating smuggling operations and intelligence sharing. The agreement would also enhance a program to allow Central American citizens to apply for asylum in their home countries. However, not everyone gets that message.

When asked about applying for asylum in their home country, a woman and her daughter from El Salvador told us they have no TV, don’t see the news and didn’t know that was an option.

KPRC we’ll have a full report on its trip to the border Wednesday at 10 p.m.