Americans aren’t the only ones motivated by Tuesday’s election. The presidential race has immigrants from around the world racing to the U.S.-Mexican border, as the cartels exploit a powerful narrative: get into the U.S. while you still can.
“Smugglers are telling them that they need to come across now while there’s a chance,” said Art Del Cueto, a Border Patrol agent in Tucson, Ariz., whose views were echoed by another agent in Texas.
“People think if one candidate wins, certain things will happen, like a giant wall being built and then they can never get through,” said Chris Cabrera, an agent in the Rio Grande Valley. “Another faction believes that if the other candidate wins, they’ll get amnesty if they’re here by a certain date.”
Those two competing narratives–triggered by the rhetoric of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, respectively–are driving immigration numbers the Border Patrol hasn’t seen in years in some sectors.
“We are overwhelmed,” said a veteran agent in McAllen, Texas. “We are seeing 800 to 1,000 apprehensions every night.”
In fiscal 2016, the Border Patrol apprehended 117,200 immigrants from Central America, almost one-third of all apprehensions border-wide–and 5,000 more than during the so-called surge of 2014. The agency also apprehended 5,000 Haitians, up from just 700 last year. The number of immigrants claiming to be from Africa and Asia also is up.
The poverty and violence plaguing many of these countries helps push immigrants north, Beeson said. Pull factors include available and good-paying jobs in the U.S. and immigration policy that provides work permits and freedom for immigrants while the courts adjudicate their ‘asylum’ claim.
“When you stop somebody, you ask their name and the first thing they tell you is–‘I’m here for asylum, I can’t go home because they’ll kill me.’ . . . When it takes a good five or six minutes just to get their name out of them, they have a rehearsed story,” said Cabrera. “Once they get those papers saying they can pass through our checkpoint, we’ll never see them again.”
Del Cueto said the agents are “not getting any backing” from D.C. and “we need to start enforcing every single immigration law we have on the books.”
Del Cueto and Cabrera belong to the National Border Patrol Council, which represents the Border Patrol’s 18,000 field agents who are prohibited from talking openly to the media.