Border crisis overwhelming officials, communities as migrant numbers keep surging
US southern border saw more than 200,000 migrant encounters in August
MISSION, Texas – The crisis at the southern border, which has seen hundreds of thousands of migrants encountered at the border in recent months and has overwhelmed Border Patrol agents while causing a massive political headache for the Biden administration, shows little sign of slowing down — amid concerns that there are further migrant groups on their way.
In a nighttime tour of the border near Mission, Texas, Fox News saw groups of migrants coming across, predominantly families, who were pointed in the direction of nearby processing areas.
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Border Patrol agents told Fox News that migrant family units were unlikely to be removed under Title 42 public health protections (only 19% of family units were removed under Title 42 in August) and instead would likely be processed and released into the interior – potentially at a nearby bus station – either that night or in the morning.
"Processing," one frustrated agent told Fox News, echoing a common complaint from agents that they aren't in the field. "That’s all we do, process."
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The Biden administration ended the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) which kept migrants in Mexico as they awaited their immigration proceedings. Separately, they also ended asylum cooperative agreements (ACAs) which meant migrants would claim asylum in Northern Triangle countries instead.
With those changes, the administration has also ended the practice known as "catch and release," something the Trump administration had used a patchwork of policies to end. Now, while single adults are mostly still being removed from the U.S., migrant families are mostly allowed to enter the U.S. -- handed only a Notice to Appear at court or a Notice to Report to a nearby Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facility.
Republicans have blamed the dramatic changes in policy, including the ending of border wall construction, for the surge in migration. More than 200,000 migrants were encountered in July and August, and DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas has reportedly warned of a worst-case scenario of 400,000 migrants hitting the border if Title 42 public health expulsions are ended.
The Biden administration, however, has blamed a mixture of Trump administration policies and "root causes" in Central America for the surge.
"The downturn in economies, the attendant rise in violence, the downturn in economies made more acute by reason of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the suppression of any humanitarian relief over the past number of years, and the pent-up thirst for relief among many different populations," Mayorkas said in an interview this week. "I think an accumulation of factors contributes to the rise in migration that we've seen."
The dangers for migrants remain significant. Typically, they are dropped off by a smuggler -- who are typically paid around $10,000 per person -- at the Mexico side of the border. They walk across the brush for hours, where they face extreme heat, treacherous terrain and wildlife dangers like tarantulas and rattlesnakes, before they are then met by a smuggler on the U.S. side.
Migrants, however, frequently will get disorientated during the journey or injured, and can get lost. Border Patrol put up laminated signs directing migrants toward the processing centers to avoid more migrant deaths and injuries.
One local official told Fox News that it can be difficult to prosecute smugglers as illegal immigrants are reluctant to testify against smugglers as they will often be offered a discount for repeat crossings.
Meanwhile, ranchers in the area told Fox News how migrants will wreck fences as they climb through their property, that gang activity is up in the area, and warned how deaths of migrants in the area are on their way back up to levels not seen since 2012.
"It’s a huge disaster, disaster and I’m right there so close to the border," one rancher told Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., who visited a ranch in South Texas on Friday. "The drugs are coming across like you wouldn’t believe, and they don’t stay here -- they don’t stay here at the border."
Blackburn also attended a briefing with local officials, including the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS). There officials said that DPS alone had encountered 334 gang members from 88 different gangs this year alone, and there have been 35 violent conflicts in the south part of the states -- and that August had seen the highest number yet.
Officials talked about how the situation had been exacerbated by the Haitian migrant surge, where DPS put up a wall of cars to stop the surge of more than 15,000 migrants under the Del Rio bridge.
They are also taking preventative measures to deal with reports of up to 60,000 migrants coming up from Panama, as part of a broader push by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott to contain the flood of migrants across the border.
"We don’t have any clear information to suggest where they're going to go," one DPS official told the Republican senator. "I’ve heard El Paso, I've heard Arizona, I've heard California."
Meanwhile, they have seen a dramatic increase in vehicular pursuits, with some parts seeing a 1000%+ increase in the number of vehicle pursuits -- often packed with illegal immigrants -- in over the same time last year.
Border Patrol agents told Fox that DPS’ help was invaluable, but also that it’s the type of thing they should be doing rather than the processing and caregiving duties they are frequently assigned. Both DPS and Border Patrol officials contrasted their respective morales, with DPS agents in good spirits contrasting with Border Patrol agents frustrated with what the federal government is making them do and the limits placed upon them.
Fox also visited the incomplete parts of the border wall, which had been constructed during the Trump administration, but had been put a halt to by the Biden administration. The towering wall sweeps along the border, before ending abruptly.
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On Friday, the administration announced the further cancellation of border wall contracts in Rio Grande Valley and Laredo, days after former Border Patrol Chief Rodney Scott had warned that it was at one ponts costing the U.S. $5 million a day not to build the wall.
A few days later, Fox News took footage of migrants walking past incomplete border wall construction in La Joya, Texas, something that has been seen numerous times this year.
Fox News' Bill Melugin contributed to this report.