In the time span of a mere five minutes, Border Patrol agents in El Paso, Texas, caught two groups of illegal border crossers, counting more than 400 in total and underscoring the roughly 500 percent surge in apprehensions the El Paso Sector seen this fiscal year.
Agents encountered the first group of 194 at about 2:45 a.m. on March 19 west of Bowie High School. Five minutes later, agents working further west in downtown El Paso caught the second group of 252.
“These groups, like many others before, are comprised primarily of Central American families and unaccompanied juveniles,” the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) stated in a March 19 release.
El Paso Surge
The El Paso Sector, covering some 270 border miles in westernmost Texas and the whole stretch along New Mexico’s southern border, has seen a monumental increase in illegal crossings, with apprehensions about six times higher in the first five months of fiscal 2019 (starting in October) than in the same period a year earlier.
In one 24-hour period, starting late March 5, more than 700 illegal aliens were apprehended, including two large groups that crossed the border fence near downtown El Paso. The first group contained 112 people and the second 252, according to CBP. Several smaller groups also crossed in different locations along the El Paso metro area. In one of the groups, border agents discovered an unaccompanied 2-year-old child.
The apprehension count for the whole sector stands at more than 100,000 between October and February and appears to continue to rise in March, with the average of 570 apprehensions a day in the past 30 days, CBP stated on March 19.
On March 19 alone, about 1,200 crossers were caught, according to Ramiro Cordero, Border Patrol Special Operations supervisor in the El Paso Sector.
“It is pulling us very close to a breaking point,” he told The Epoch Times via phone.
Most of the crossers (90 percent) are caught in the El Paso Metropolitan Area.
Diversion for Cartels
The drug cartels appear to be using the large groups as a diversion to get contraband across the border, Cordero said in a prior interview.
“It’s a strategy. It’s kind of like taking two bites at the apple,” he said. “From their point of view, they’re making money out of this—illegal aliens—because of course they do, and at the same time they think that they can get other stuff through.”
Illegal immigrants have routinely acknowledged they pay thousands of dollars to human smugglers, so-called coyotes, whose smuggling routes are, in turn, controlled by the cartels.
“Nobody crosses the border in El Paso without having some type of permission, some type of agreement with the criminal organizations,” Cordero said. “That is the case here.”
Last week, while the agents were apprehending two large groups, five Mexicans and one American tried to sneak across further down the border. They were caught after a short foot chase and, as it turned out, the American had a warrant on him and an extensive criminal history, Cordero said.
“It’s not just drugs that we’re concerned with … It’s also people,” he said. “People that don’t want to get caught, and they’re exploiting this.”
Uptick Across Border
The border crossers’ congregating in larger groups have become the new norm in other parts of the border, too. More than 70 large groups (100 or more migrants) have been apprehended by Border Patrol so far this fiscal year—equaling more than 12,000 apprehensions. That compares to a total of 13 large groups in all of fiscal 2018.
Overall, agents apprehended nearly double the illegal border crossers in the first five months of fiscal 2019 than in the same period the prior year.
“At the current pace, we are on track to encounter close to one million illegal aliens at our southern border this year,” Department of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen told the House Homeland Security Committee on March 6.
The vast majority of the border-crossers claim a fear of returning to their country once they enter the United States; yet only a fraction—less than 10 percent—are approved for asylum by an immigration judge. But under current U.S. law, all who pass the credible-fear screening will be quickly released into the United States, regardless of the merit of the claim.
Cordero said it’s apparent the migrants are getting coached on what to say to pass the credible fear test.
He gave a hypothetical example of two women, one from El Salvador and one from Guatemala, apprehended after illegally crossing the border:
“Both of them will tell you the same story that their two daughters were about to be raped, their son was going to be recruited by the gangs, and that they were being forced out of their homes. From two completely different regions, and they have the exact same story,” he said. “So yes, if you want to say that they are being coached to have that story to make an attempt at being the recipients of credible fear—yes.”
President Donald Trump declared the border situation a national emergency on Feb. 15, seeking to redirect federal funding toward building more border fencing and replacing old or ineffective sections.
A Democrat-backed resolution to strike down the national emergency passed Congress thanks to the support of about a dozen Republican Senators. Trump vetoed it.
Meanwhile, the Defense Department stated it has found some $12.8 billion in funding that could be redirected toward construction of the border barrier.
Epoch Times staff writer Charlotte Cuthbertson contributed to this report.