Mission – Data just released by Customs and Border shows the number of encounters along our southern border continues to rise and reached a level not seen since the year 2000.
According to CBP data, there were 178,622 encounters along our country’s border with Mexico. That is a slight increase from 173,348 encounters seen in March. An encounter is defined as immigrants who are apprehended crossing the border illegally and those who tried to enter through legal ports of entry but were deemed inadmissible.
THE CBP data did show the number of unaccompanied minors and family units dipped slightly from March. There were 16,933 unaccompanied minors encountered by Border Patrol in April, as opposed to 18,733 in March.
Border Patrol encountered 48,226 family units in April, as opposed to 53,406 in March. The increase came in the form of single adults, 108,301 encounters in April versus 97,074 in March.
When it comes to single adults, 57.89% are from Mexico, while 15.53% are from Guatemala, 11.72% Honduras, 4.2% El Salvador and 11.66% from other countries. However, when it comes to family units and unaccompanied children, the majority are from Central America.
Within 20 minutes of driving along a levee near the border, agents encountered a group of immigrants trying to hide in the underbrush. All but one were from central America.
“There are no jobs in Guatemala,” said Nancy Maribel, a resident of Guatemala.
Among those apprehended, one man told us this was not his first attempt.
“I can’t pass. This is our third attempt.,” said Eduardo Garcia, a Guatemalan national.
Border patrol agents said Garcia was captured just four days prior to our visit. Garcia said he is trying to get to Houston to find work.
“Here, they pay me even just to sweep, but over there, nothing,” said Garcia.
Instead of being deported to his home country, Garcia keeps getting sent back to Mexico under a pandemic-related law known as Title 42.
“He’s a recidivist, I mean he is just going to keep on coming back,” said Border Patrol agent Jesse Moreno.
A 16-year-old girl in this group initially said she was alone, hoping to stay in the U.S. as an unaccompanied minor. Agents quickly figured out that was not true.
“That’s (her) mom right there next to her,” said Moreno. “So, she was hoping to get processed in a certain manner.”
Agents also showed us a large pile of homemade wooden ladders near a section of the border. Border Patrol supervisory agent Christian Alvarez said many immigrants will cobble a ladder together in Mexico and carry it across the river.
“This is what they bring with them to try to get over this wall,” said Alvarez.
Agents destroy the ladders and pile up the pieces for the collection.
After only an hour-and-a-half with border patrol, agents were already tracking a third group of men in a cornfield. Broken stalks showed some made it out while others were lying low. Using an infrared camera, a Department of Homeland Security helicopter helped agents on the ground pinpoint the men’s location. All were from El Salvador and Honduras, except one man who was from Mexico. Agents believe he was the paid guide for the group.
“About three or four weeks was the last time they picked him up and he has been apprehended about four times,” said Moreno.
A mile away from this location, agents are tracking another group of immigrants hiding in a patch of thick brush. Three men are quickly captured, and by the time we walk out of the brush, we see several more have been caught. Two immigrants told us they were fleeing their respective governments.
“I testified about crimes in my country, I was threatened,” said Wilma Estella Mejia, who is from El Salvador and trying to get to family in New York.
Another man wouldn’t give us his name but said he is from Nicaragua.
“I am fleeing from the government because they tried to kill me because I participated in anti-government marches,” he said.
Moreno was skeptical of the man’s story.
“He said this is his first time being apprehended,” said Moreno. “And then this is his third time. All those things we take into account.”
Single adults know they’ll either be deported or simply sent back to Mexico under a pandemic-related law. This is why groups like the ones we saw try to avoid capture.
However, large groups of families still surrender shortly after crossing the river.
“I’m a single mother and I want a better future for them,” said Aide Lopez, who is from Guatemala and trying to get to family in Los Angeles.
Many central American families with small children see others getting released into the U.S. while asylum claims are processed and hope for the same chance. All of this is fueling numbers along the border not seen in nearly two decades.
“Right now, we’re averaging around a thousand encounters a day,” said Moreno.
“And that’s just the Rio Grande Valley?” asked KPRC 2 Investigator Robert Arnold.
“Just the Rio Grande Valley,” said Moreno.
Some who live near the border are fed up with the high volume of traffic.
“They’re driving stolen trucks. They’re running through people’s fences. They’re bailing out of the vehicles,” said La Salle county rancher, Joe Kortis.
Kortis said he’s spent more than $6,500 repairing repeated damage to fences torn up by immigrants crossing his property to try to avoid capture.
Kortis said seeing immigrants who illegally crossed our border walking through the county is not new. He said the difference is in the numbers seen coming across this year.
“It’s frustrating and stressful is what it is,” said Kortis.
Texas lawmakers from Gov. Greg Abbott to Attorney General Ken Paxton to local leaders, continue pressuring the federal government to find a solution and reimburse the state for money spent on helping secure the border.
Lavaca, Goliad, Kinney, La Salle and Atascosa counties have issued disaster declarations; claiming local resources are being used to deal with the overflow of people illegally crossing the border. Galveston County Judge Mark Henry echoes these concerns and said he’s drafting a resolution to signal his frustration over a lack of a solution to this crisis.
“At this point, I’m not so sure how they can get it under control,” said Henry.