Number of Migrants Illegally Crossing Rio Grande Sharply Rises

Julia Preston, New York Times, November 26, 2015

The numbers of migrants crossing the Rio Grande illegally have risen sharply in recent weeks, replaying scenes from the influx of Central American children and families in South Texas last year.

Once again, smugglers are bringing hundreds of women and children each day to the Mexican banks of the river and sending them across in rafts. In a season when illegal crossings normally go down, “The numbers have started going the other way,” said Raul L. Ortiz, acting chief of the Border Patrol for the Rio Grande Valley. Since Oct. 1, official figures show, Border Patrol apprehensions of migrant families in this region have increased 150 percent over the same period last year, while the number of unaccompanied children caught by agents has more than doubled.

Border officials argue that reductions in detention of migrant women with children could also have had an impact. Responding to federal court decisions, the Department of Homeland Security ended a policy of detaining most of the women to convey a dissuasive message to Central America. The authorities have been releasing women and children in three weeks or less, sending them to pursue claims for asylum in immigration courts around the country.

“I’m sure some information has filtered down to those countries that maybe they have some opportunities with respect to our inability to detain families and kids,” Ortiz said in an interview at his headquarters near here. “Family members that are already here are saying, now is potentially a pretty good time to come to the U.S.”

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Border Patrol agents, scouting dirt roads along the Rio Grande that are sinking in mud after fall rains, are recalling the surge of 2014. {snip}

“They crossed a group right there in front of me,” said one agent on the riverbank, pointing to a high point where he had been standing watch on a recent day. The smugglers were not deterred by his green uniform and badge, he said.

The migrants “jump out of the coyote’s truck and head down to the water,” the agent said, using the Mexican term for a smuggler. “They’re moving, and boom, they’re in.” They scramble up through the thorny brush on the U.S. side. “They come straight to you,” said the agent, who was not authorized to speak by name.

Women and children who turn themselves in to the Border Patrol and ask for asylum pass preliminary security checks and are turned over, generally within two days, to Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Most are sent to two detention centers in South Texas, where they pass further checks and interviews to determine if they have credible claims to request asylum.

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