Border Patrol stopped illegal crossings 100K times in 4-month span

BROWNSVILLE, Texas (KTRK) -- About 40 people stood in line in a Brownsville parking garage Tuesday afternoon, including single mothers and families who came to the U.S. from Cuba, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico and Brazil seeking asylum with papers in hand.

Many lived in Mexico while they waited for the legal process to play out, but with the change in policy, they will now wait it out in America. Nearby, a van dropped off migrants who were held for weeks, or sometimes months, after crossing the border illegally.

Hector, who is originally from Honduras, came with his young son in a trailer. They were apprehended at the border and detained in a facility. Now, they are headed to Alabama.

Another man said he swam across the river with his daughter on his back. Each of them, whether they entered illegally or are seeking asylum, said they were escaping gangs or drug lords in their home countries.

"It's been hard for me and my family with the violence that you live with in your country," a woman sitting next to her daughter said in Spanish. "You need to get out of there."

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Charlene D'Cruz, the director of Project Corazon, moved to Brownsville from Wisconsin near the end of 2019 to help migrants seeking asylum. She said prior to the pandemic, she was in Mexico every day helping hundreds or thousands of clients.

On Tuesday, she spotted one of her clients who she said has been waiting for years to be able to enter the U.S.

"It was amazing," D'Cruz said. "I didn't even know he was coming."

D'Cruz believes what is happening is cyclical and would not call it a "crisis."

"What it is ... it's like a tourniquet," she explained. "There was a chokehold on the border and it was slowly letting out, so of course they are going to come in."

Christian Alvarez with the Rio Grande Valley sector of U.S. Customs and Border Protection said from October 2020 until February 2021, they have already apprehended more than 100,000 people, compared to 90,000 for the entirety of the previous fiscal year.

Alvarez said they are seeing a 100% increase in unaccompanied minors and families. The migrants are coming on rafts meant to hold six but are instead weighted down with 15 people. He said just about everyone who comes across the river has to pay a smuggler anywhere from a few thousand dollars to $20,000 depending on where they're from and where they are headed.

Hundreds of agents have been sent to the Rio Grande Valley from other parts of the country to help with processing, according to Alvarez.

"It is a crisis," said Pastor Carlos Navarro with Ministerio Golan. "That's why you came here today. You'll see it for yourself. This is a crisis. You're talking about 2,000 or 3,000 a week coming. Everybody in the city is scared."

He said they are used to seeing a few hundred, but that number has increased drastically.

Navarro was running a facility out of his church to hold migrants for 24 hours and provide them with clothes and hygiene supplies. He said the city of Brownsville will not allow it since the pandemic began.

He now meets with the migrants in the town square and at the bus stop.

"The things that they've brought from wherever they come from is already gone," Navarro said. "Their shoes are torn apart. Ladies don't have anything, not even a bra."

Up the highway in Harlingen, Loaves and Fishes has kept their shelter open. They house both homeless and migrants. Melissa Gutierrez said the nonprofit will get an hours-notice before a bus shows up.

"Out of those 75%, 25% tested positive (for COVID-19), so we are trying to prevent the virus from coming in the building," Gutierrez said.

She said they were kept at a hotel.

Within the city of Brownsville, Navarro said residents are divided. He said many worry what this massive increase means for their city.

"There are pros to help the migrants and the other group says, 'No we don't want them here,'" Navarro explained. "They feel threatened that they are coming to take away what belongs to Americans or U.S. citizens."

When asked if he felt like that was the case, Navarro said they are just looking for a better way of life.

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