Alan Butterfield, Daily Mail, March 30, 2021
‘Welcome to the USA’
The words are etched on a cement boat ramp that leads from the Rio Grande, and it’s the spot where hundreds of illegal immigrants per week take their first steps onto American soil.
The crossing point is on private property where an abandoned house sits on a quiet rural street that runs parallel to the Rio Grande, about 5 miles out of town from Del Rio, Texas, 150 miles southwest of San Antonio.
Law enforcement has nicknamed it ‘Border Lawn.’
‘It’s the easiest illegal border crossing along the Rio Grande,’ Val Verde County Sheriff Joe Frank Martinez told DailyMail.com in an exclusive interview.
‘In the past few months we’ve had a dramatic increase in illegal border crossings at this point,’ said Martinez, 64, who has been Sheriff of this border county for the past 13 years. ‘Two months ago we had maybe 20 illegals crossing here a week and now we have anywhere from 60-75 illegals a day.’
Del Rio has a population of 36,000 people. It’s counterpart across the Rio Grande, Ciudad Acuna, has a population of 216,000
Martinez says depending on the time of day, the water at this point of the Rio Grande is only a few feet deep in places – making it easy to wade through the water from Mexico to the United States in a matter of minutes.
Ten miles north of this point is the dam on Amistad (Friendship) Reservoir which borders the US/Mexico. In the early mornings the river is at a low point, only a few feet deep in some places, but by mid-afternoon the flood gates of the dam open up and the water rises by as much as 10 to 15 feet.
The key time for the illegal crossing is from 10am-3pm when the water is at its lowest point, said the Sheriff. ‘In the past we used to get Haitian and Central American’s but now most of the people who cross at this point are Cubans and Venezuelans.’
Standing 6′ 3 tall, Sheriff Martinez is an imposing figure, wearing Wrangler jeans, cowboy boots with a circa 1932 Colt. 45 pistol strapped to his side. He says the Biden administration is to blame for the increase of illegal crossings.
Martinez, a democrat, says there was poor planning on the part of the current administration.
‘They just wiped out the old policy under the Trump administration and when they took over, the Biden administration didn’t have a plan to put their new policy in place.
‘These people who are coming across are telling us the Biden administration was going to be more lax than the previous one, and that’s why they are crossing. That’s why they are coming and it’s only going to get worse.’
Sheriff Martinez said this smuggling route is no longer a local secret. ‘The word is getting out that this particular area is a good, safe place to cross for immigrants who want to surrender and claim political asylum.’
There are a few types of people who cross the border at this place, said the Sheriff, ‘the ones that want to get into the US so they can work and live illegally and then the other ones are seeking political asylum.
‘The ones that want political asylum wait around for law enforcement after they step onto American soil and wait for the Border Patrol. They usually cross during the day and come as a family with luggage, cell phones, often wearing nice clothing. They bring a change of clothing with them to change into after they get out of the water. They don’t run or try to escape.’
Martinez says almost all of the Cuban and Venezuelans that are detained at this illegal crossing point are going to eventually ask for political asylum.
Last weekend, a DailyMail.com reporter and photographer documented several immigrant families crossing the Rio Grande at ‘border lawn.’ There were a few Cubans, but Venezuelans were the predominate country of people who crossed at this point.
Entire families crossed the river with moms and dads carrying their young children on their shoulders, while holding bags or small suitcases with their belongings.
On Friday a Venezuelan family-of-three were crossing the border with the help of a local ‘guide’. A father not used to the strong current in the knee water, slipped and fell and dropped his two-year old daughter into the river. The ‘guide’ went back and picked up the young girl and carried her the rest of the way taking her to the edge of the river onto U.S. soil.
‘The guides from Mexico know who our deputies are and actually tell them the number of people they are bringing over to the U.S.,’ continued the Martinez.
The guides never set foot on U.S. soil, they accompany the immigrant’s right up to the water’s edge and as soon as their cargo in on the bank they go back to the Mexican side.
On Saturday, one group of 11 Venezuelans with three minor children made the crossing. The ‘guide’ – acting more like a baggage porter – brought their bags to the cement boat ramp, Val Verde County Sheriff Deputies then helped the children and adults up onto American soil.
A little girl wearing peach colored leggings, wet from the river, was the first of the group to arrive in America, her mother is behind her. The mother, sobbing, picked up her young girl cradling her in her arms, while the baby girl told her mother in Spanish, ‘don’t cry mommy, and don’t cry.’
Another individual overcome with exhaustion and emotion – a young man, Jose Lovera, 26, – a former engineering student in Caracas, Venezuela broke down in tears and dropped to his knees and thanked God. Crying, he said ‘there is no future there, you can’t live there, there is no quality of there. Now I can go out and work and not worry about being killed.
‘The United States is the best. I can’t believe I’ve arrived here. I want to thank God for allowing me to get here and America for helping me out.’
‘I want to work in this country, I’ll need some help at first but then I promise you I’ll work hard and become a productive member of society.’
Lovera said he’s been planning his escape from Venezuela for 18 months. The trip costs him about $1,000. He bought a roundtrip ticket from Caracas to Mexico City then took an overnight bus from Mexico City to Ciudad Acuna. He said he didn’t pay the cartel but added that in Mexico City he was told that the easiest place to cross the border was in Del Rio. He said they paid their ‘guide’ a $20 tip to help them navigate the river to the U.S. side.
When asked if he feared anything about coming to the United States, he looked over his shoulder toward Mexico and said, ‘I fear getting sent back to Venezuela, if any of us get sent back the government will kill us.’
Several in the group had contact numbers of relatives and sponsors throughout the United States and are hoping to be released to them with a court date in hand.
One mother told her scared young child, ‘don’t worry, we are safe now, we are free, we are in America.’
Another older gentleman passed out for a few minutes. He suffered from hypertension, but was okay after he took his prescription pills. He later said he was also overcome with exhaustion and stress.
Marco Fernandez, 53, a former small business owner in Caracas before the government took it from him, said he walked for 16 days to get from Mexico City to the Rio Grande. ‘It’s dangerous in Venezuela the government is dangerous,’ he said.
Fernandez said he had been in the United States 20 years ago after he was baptized as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He has a friend in Salt Lake City, Utah who he wants to go live with. With tears in his eyes his said life in Venezuela is worse than you can imagine and he lived in fear of dying every day.
Another women dressed in all white clothing called someone to tell them she had made it, with tears in her eyes she said, ‘I can’t believe I’m here.’ She had her ankle checked by paramedics after twisting it on a rock while crossing the river.
Among the group were students, a journalist, small business owners and an engineer, all who said they wanted a better life and were frightened of their government.
Throughout the weekend a steady stream of families would make the less than five minute trek across the river accompanied by local guides every few hours. It’s a routine scenario for local sheriff deputies and the Border Patrol.
A U.S. Border Patrol agent who didn’t want to be identified said they are now a glorified Uber service. They are busy non-stop and said there aren’t enough of them for all of the people coming through these past couple of months. ‘We are working overtime and there still isn’t enough time in the day.’
At one point over the weekend sheriff’s deputies had to wait with 25 immigrants for over an hour before border patrol could pick them up because they were busy on other calls.
Sheriff Martinez said that there are days where 75% of his resources are being used at this particular illegal border crossing. ‘Our resources are being used to help out with illegal immigration, but I need my deputies to be there in order to keep our citizens safe and to help out our federal partners.’
Last Thursday, the Border Patrol reported 6,000 people were encountered at the southwest border, an all-time high. Sheriff Martinez believes that the numbers are only going to increase.
But Sheriff Martinez says that not everyone who comes through this illegal border crossing is trying to get political asylum. ‘We’ve found ID’s, bus tickets, plane tickets, and other forms of identification the immigrants leave behind. I think they want to come over to the US and generate a new ID for themselves. If those people had good intentions in order to stay in the United States they would keep their ID’s and information not get rid of them.’
DailyMail.com found several ID’s, plane ticket with only the outbound flight used, bus tickets, scattered in the ‘border lawn’ area.
Martinez is disappointed with the politicians in Washington, DC. ‘It’s madness what’s going here. I’d like to invite all of them down here, President Biden and VP Harris. They are 2,000 miles away making decisions that are effecting us. It’s just a dog and pony show when these senators and congressmen show up and everyone brings all their toys out for an hour or two. They take pictures and put on a show. It’d like to see some action instead of lip service.’
Sheriff Martinez says he wants the 31 other ‘border sheriff’s’ in Arizona and Texas to be at the table with Washington politicians to discuss policies and strategies on immigration.
‘We are in trouble when it comes to immigration. I don’t think it’s going to get any better anytime soon.’
Even though the Biden administration has so far refused to use the word ‘crisis’ when it comes to describing the border situation, Sheriff Martinez has no problem saying, ‘this is a crisis.’