As senators head to border, debates continues on how to deal with surge of illegal crossings

TEXAS – A delegation of 19 Republican senators is heading to the Rio Grande Valley on Friday to get a first-hand look at the conditions along Texas’ border with Mexico. The group is being led by Texas Senators Ted Cruz and John Cornyn.

The number of immigrants caught illegally crossing our southern border has been steadily rising since April of 2020, according to customs and border protection data. In April of 2020, CBP reported apprehending 17,108 immigrants. By February of 2021, that number swelled to 100,441, and border patrol agents tell KPRC 2 Investigates they expect to exceed that number by the end of March.

Every border patrol sector from Texas to California is reporting increases in apprehensions. Federal data shows, compared to this time last year, there has been a 92% increase in unaccompanied children caught crossing the border, a 5% increase in family units, and a 188% increase in single adults.

According to CBP data, the vast majority of families and unaccompanied children caught crossing the southern border this year are from Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala.

“This many people coming into our country illegally does put a burden on our system,” said border patrol agent Jesse Moreno.

Moreno said Texas’ Rio Grande Valley has been hit particularly hard by large groups of immigrants crossing at once.

“There’s been over 26 groups that have entered illegally with over a hundred illegal aliens in it,” said Moreno.

“Are they trying to get away or are they just automatically surrendering?” asked KPRC 2 Investigator Robert Arnold.

“They’re not trying to run from us, so they are looking for our agents and turning themselves in,” said Moreno.

On Thursday, Cornyn blamed the increase on a rollback of Trump-era immigration restrictions by President Joe Biden’s administration.

“That is the perception, that illegal immigration will have no consequences. To me, that’s the single, the most important thing that we are neglecting,” said Cornyn. “When those policies were reversed, it looked like it was an open-door policy.”

The executive director of Catholic Charities for the Rio Grande Valley, Sister Norma Pimentel, disagrees and said the increase is fueled by extreme poverty, crime, and natural disasters in Central America. Pimentel has long helped immigrants released from border patrol custody by providing a respite center with food, medical care, and assistance in understanding immigration court documents. Catholic Charities of the RGV has also started testing immigrants released in McAllen for COVID-19.

“It’s not the administration, it’s the fact that these families, these children are in danger in their country,” said Pimentel. “We here have not focused on resolving the reasons why they’re coming.”

To Pimentel’s point, the word “opportunity” was one KPRC 2 heard frequently when speaking with immigrants recently released from border patrol custody to remain in the U.S. while their asylum claims are decided.

“It was a very hard trip. It’s hard to explain what’s it’s like crossing different countries to get here,” said Mirtza Macias, who is from Honduras.

Macias said it took her and her 4-year-old daughter 26 days to get from Honduras to the U.S. She surrendered to border patrol after crossing the Rio Grande and is asking for asylum. She was released and ordered to appear in immigration court at a later date.

“I want a better future for my daughter and there’s no opportunities in Honduras,” said Macias.

At the bus station in Brownsville, we heard similar hopes from those just released from custody and leaving to join family and friends in other parts of the U.S.

“The situation in my country is unstable,” said Hansel Duarte from Nicaragua. “There’s no jobs, no opportunities to move forward.”

Duarte and his family were headed to Houston to live with his cousin and his family.

Of acute concern for the Biden administration, is the number of unaccompanied minors who can’t simply be sent home and who can only be released to a guardian or sponsor vetted by our government. The office of Refugee Resettlement has now opened temporary shelters in Carrizo Springs, Midland, Pecos, San Antonio, Dallas, and San Diego, California to handle the 11,500 children currently in its custody. That number does not include those children still in Border Patrol custody waiting to be transferred to a shelter.

“The only reason they come by themselves is because they don’t have the money to pay a trafficker for the whole family to come,” said Pimentel.

Biden shot back at critics who said his administration is not doing enough to stem the flow of people. He pointed to federal data showing 317,590 caught crossing the southern border have been expelled from the U.S. using a pandemic-related law, known as Title 42. This law allows our government to send someone back to the county they last passed through.

Biden said the reason some families are being released into the U.S. while their asylum claims are decided is because Mexico won’t allow us to send them back to their country, and there’s no more room at facilities here that can accommodate family units. Biden said his administration is working with Mexico to increase the number of families being sent back under Title 42.

“The only people that we’re not going to let sitting there on the other side of the Rio Grande by themselves with no help, are children,” Biden said.