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Border crisis: How new US policy is shifting the numbers at the border

MCALLEN, Texas – Since the beginning of the year, KPRC 2 Investigates has chronicled the crisis unfolding along our border with Mexico.

Border Patrol reported 977,509 immigrants were either caught crossing the border illegally or deemed inadmissible to the United States during the 2019 fiscal year. According to Customs and Border Protection records, that is the highest number seen along the southern border in more than a decade.

However, the number of people caught along the border began dropping significantly over the summer.

During a recent trip to the border, KPRC 2 saw a very different set of circumstances than we did over the spring and summer. The numbers are down and those on the front lines said this is due to a variety of factors.

“The majority of the people we're encountering now are actually people who are trying to avoid apprehension,” said Border Patrol agent Herman Rivera.

“They're running now as opposed to surrendering?” asked KPRC 2 investigator Robert Arnold.

“That's correct,” said Rivera.

During past visits to the border, KPRC 2 saw hundreds of Central American, Venezuelan and Cuban immigrants surrendering to agents as soon as they crossed the border. Many, particularly family units, were released into the United States with notices to appear in federal court for their asylum claims to be decided. During the recent visit, KPRC 2 witnessed three chases involving groups of immigrants sneaking across the border.

“Why are they running now?” asked Arnold

“They're running because they know if they get caught they're going to get sent back to their country,” said Rivera.

Rivera is primarily talking about a program that started in January called Migrant Protection Protocols. This program sends immigrants from countries other than Mexico back to Mexico while their asylum claims work through courts. The federal government has been increasing the use of this program, and CBP reports 57,000 immigrants have been sent to Mexico under MPP as of Nov. 4.

During our recent trip to the border, we also noticed not nearly as many family units and unaccompanied children were seen crossing the border as there were over the spring and summer. Rivera confirmed Border Patrol as a whole was seeing a decrease in these numbers.

“I think (MPP) has had a big impact because people are starting to get the word that they're not being released," Rivera said. "We're not releasing you anymore.”

Former Acting Secretary of Homeland Security, Kevin McAleenan announced the end of “catch and release for Central American families” on Oct. 9.

Rivera said he has also seen the Mexican government stepping up efforts to stem the number of Central American immigrants making their way to the border.

The drop in numbers alleviated dangerous overcrowding at Border Patrol detention facilities, but it is also left taxpayers with a very large shelter for unaccompanied children sitting empty. Watch for more on that story Thursday on KPRC 2 News at 10 p.m.