For the second consecutive month, Customs and Border Protection reported more than 100,000 people were detained along the southern Border.
In April, CBP reported nearly 99,000 immigrants were caught illegally crossing the border between ports of entry, while the remaining numbers involved those who tried to enter the country lawfully but were deemed inadmissible.
The monthly totals are the highest numbers seen along the southern border since the fiscal year 2007.
High number of apprehensions
CBP records also show, with five months left in the fiscal year, the number of people apprehended between ports of entry since October has already surpassed the number of apprehensions in all of the fiscal year 2018.
When Channel 2 Investigates visited a portion of the border south of McAllen, Border Patrol agents were blunt when describing their struggle to deal with these numbers.
"All we're doing is crying for help, we need help, we're undermanned," said Border Patrol agent Carlos Ruiz during a May 8 interview with KPRC. "This past week the Rio Grande Valley sector alone, just us alone, apprehended over 10,000 illegal immigrants."
KPRC2 gets firsthand look
Something KPRC saw firsthand was how smugglers are taking advantage of this surge. During a less than 20-minute period we saw smugglers paddle three rafts across the river, bringing over at least 50 immigrants. The sight of our camera didn't deter the smugglers, they simply recorded us with their phone as we recorded the crossings.
Even as Ruiz was directing these groups to continue walking down a dirt road paralleling the river until they saw other Border Patrol agents, another smaller group of immigrants emerged from the brush after crossing the river a few minutes earlier.
"There's no way to stop that?" asked KPRC2 investigative reporter Robert Arnold.
"Actually, no. There's no way, our agents are tied up right now with these large groups everywhere," Ruiz said referencing that he was by himself escorting us and no other agents were near our location.
In fact, before we headed to the river KPRC saw at least 100 immigrants detained under the bridge running from the McAllen area to Reynosa, Mexico. While we were there, another 80 immigrants were brought to the location after being apprehended a few miles away in Los Ebanos. These numbers are in addition to those we saw being crossed by smugglers and the several groups of between eight and 10 people we passed on the dirt road paralleling the river.
Capturing so many people at one time creates another problem for Border Patrol. During our ride-along, the number of people caught crossing the border caused a back-up in both transportation and processing. That meant those apprehended had to wait in the field until space was available at detention facilities and intake center.
"This is a tactic to send large groups because they know we need more than one agent to be able to take care of them," Ruiz said.
Border Patrol agents have to keep watch over those detained in the field, along with providing food, water, medical attention and checking identification. So many were detained under the bridge, police officers from the city of Mission had to be called in to help. Ruiz said while agents are tied up supervising detainees in the field they are not patrolling the border.
"That's exactly what concerns us, we do not know what is getting through or who is getting through," Ruiz said regarding hours spent supervising detained immigrants in the field.
Recently released photos show so many immigrants are being apprehended at one time, makeshift detention spaces are being quickly set-up, including in the parking lot of the Border Patrol station in McAllen. Border Patrol officials report the Rio Grande Valley sector has the capacity to detain approximately 3,800 immigrants. Currently, 8,000 immigrants are in custody in this sector.
Immigrants not only from Central America
While most of the immigrants we saw were families from Central America, we also saw Cubans and Venezuelans. One Cuban national told us he flew to Mexico City before heading to the border. He said he plans to seek asylum but did not want to wait in Mexico for a chance to file his claim.
"There's too many people there and it's dangerous," he said.
The man requested he not be identified because he said fears for the safety of his family in Cuba.
"The problem with the regime in Cuba is not you're not free to express yourself, you're persecuted," he said.
The increasing number of Cuban and Venezuelan nationals seeking entry to the U.S. through Mexico was more clearly seen at a refuge in the Mexican city of Reynosa. KPRC visited the Senda De Vida mission and spoke with pastor Hector Silva.
"How many people do you think you have here?" Arnold asked.
"Right now, we're over full," Silva said.
Silva estimated nearly 400 people were staying in the compound; a sign posted at the front read the mission was "at capacity." The mission provides housing, food and electricity; all of which Silva said comes from donations. Silva said the vast majority of people seeking refuge at his mission were from Cuba or Venezuela.
"Reynosa is not a good place for immigrants," Silva said in reference to many immigrants being robbed or abused.
"When did you start seeing Cubans and Venezuelans?" Arnold asked.
"About the last six months," Silva said.
Waiting for asylum
KPRC spoke with several immigrants staying at the mission and all said they would not cross the border illegally but would wait their turn to apply for asylum.
"You have to start legally, if not you'll always be in the wrong," said Venezuelan national Carlos Selguero.
People from both countries told us political persecution and rising violence in their countries fueled their desire to come to the United States. However, some said they were concerned the growing number of Central American families coming across the border would erode their chances of being granted asylum.
"Personally, I'm worried but trust the people understand the situation in my country," said Venezuelan national Jesus Arrias.
There has also been increasing concern among some Cuban nationals about their chances of being allowed to stay in the U.S. since President Barack Obama ended the so-called "wet foot, dry foot" policy. That policy once granted Cubans a faster path to a "green card" once they made it to American soil.
"In Cuba, we don't have freedom, in the United States you do," said Rayko Beltran Hernandez.
The Cuban nationals KPRC spoke with at the mission said they first flew into Panama or Nicaragua before heading to the border. Most said this route is cheaper, easier, shorter and less dangerous.
Many of the immigrants we spoke with had been waiting at Senda De Vida anywhere from a couple of weeks to more than a month for a chance to apply for asylum. Silva keeps a log near the front of the mission with the names of everyone staying at his refuge. Silva said he gives those names to Mexican authorities, who in turn hand the information to American immigration officials. Silva said Mexican officials then call him to say how many people U.S. officials will allow to apply for asylum on any given day. Silva then gives them a ride to the border.
"I'll wait here as long as necessary to enter legally," said Cuban national Alejandro Queuedo Rodriguez.
However, as we saw, not all their countrymen exercise the same patience and contribute to what Border Patrol agents have called a crisis on our southern border.
"It is a humanitarian crisis what we have, nevertheless, it's also a national security issue," Ruiz said.
Border Patrol officials report over-capacity facilities have prompted the release of nearly 20,000 non-criminal family units into McAllen, Harlingen and Brownsville since March.