Texas’s border with Mexico is again seeing a rise in the number of people caught illegally crossing into the United States.
According to data from Customs and Border Protection, the number of apprehensions began rising in April of 2020. The data shows 17,106 apprehensions in April 2020 and 78,323 in January of 2021.
“We are starting to see large groups come across at one time,” said Border Patrol agent Jesse Moreno. “It was like 253 within a 2-hour time frame, that was mainly family units and unaccompanied minors.”
“Did they try to avoid apprehension or did they surrender?” asked KPRC 2 Investigator Robert Arnold.
“They turned themselves into agents,” said Moreno.
COVID-19 restrictions currently prevent media from riding with Border Patrol agents. However, agents did share pictures of recent apprehensions at checkpoints and stash houses in the Rio Grande Valley.
“We’ve had stash houses that had 61 to 71 bodies, illegal aliens in it,” said Moreno.
During our trip, KPRC 2 Investigates saw Central American immigrants again being released into the United States while waiting for asylum claims to be decided. This is a reversal from the Trump administration’s zero-tolerance policy.
All those we saw released by Border Patrol were dropped off at the Catholic Charities Respite Center in downtown McAllen, where immigrants get food, toilet articles and help to contact family or friends in the US.
Border Patrol released a statement:
CBP has seen a steady increase in border encounters since April 2020, which, aggravated by COVID-19 restrictions and social distancing guidelines, has caused some facilities to reach maximum safe holding capacity. Per longstanding practice, when long-term holding solutions aren’t possible, some migrants will be processed for removal, provided a Notice to Appear, and released into the U.S. to await a future immigration hearing. As the Administration reviews the current immigration process, balancing it against the ongoing pandemic, we will continue to use all current authorities to avoid keeping individuals in a congregate setting for any length of time.
Border Patrol agents said those being released are medically screened and if they show symptoms of COVID-19 then they are tested at local hospitals or clinics. Border Patrol has now set-up a temporary 160,000 square foot processing center in the town of Donna to handle the increase in apprehensions while its main processing unit undergoes renovations.
Some of the immigrants KPRC 2 spoke with said they’ve heard some details of President Joe Biden’s plans for immigration reform and hope now they’ll have a better chance of staying in the United States.
“I came here because my husband and son are already here,” said Maria Melgar.
Melgar said it took her and her three-year-old daughter two months to make it from Honduras to the US. She said back-to-back hurricanes destroyed her home.
She’s hoping to reach family in Miami.
“I don’t have a mother or father and I lost everything in the floods,” said Melgar.
President Biden has also ended the Migrant Protection Protocols or ‘Remain in Mexico’ program that required thousands of immigrants to wait in Mexico while asylum claims are decided.
A limited number of those immigrants are now being allowed to cross into the US each day after being checked for COVID. They can remain in the US while their case is decided.
The Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse maintained by Syracuse University shows approximately 29,148 MPP cases pending.