An estimated 700 people are being apprehended crossing into the U.S. illegally every day in the Rio Grande Valley Border Patrol Sector.
KVEO’s Exclusive Report: Border Lines Security and Surrender, showed the dangers border patrol agents face patrolling an undermanned, underfunded sector.
Dangers are one issue, but the never ending lines to process immigrants is impacting security.
This keeps agents in the office and a strain on the front lines.
With a new president-elect and the start of a new fiscal year, what’s being done to protect the lives of Border Patrol agents and immigrants crossing into the U.S. illegally?
News Center 23’s Derick Garcia is asking top leaders the hard questions.
“December is going to a busy month” said RGV Border Patrol Sector Deputy Chief Raul L. Ortiz.
Busy is putting it lightly.
The Rio Grande Valley Sector is comprised of 9 stations, 6 of which are designated to patrol more than 300 miles of the winding river, full of brush and blind spots.
The Rio Grande Valley Border Patrol sector is seeing apprehension numbers 12 times higher than other areas of Texas.
In fiscal year 2016, total apprehensions by the border patrol on our southwest border, between ports of entry, was 408,870.
36, 717 were apprehended here in the RGV sector.
A 54% increase from 2015’s apprehension numbers [23,864]
With the federal government knowing illegal immigration is outrageously higher in southwest Texas, the sector hasn’t changed significantly since then.
Many of the struggles at the peak of the immigration crisis of 2014, are relatively the same in 2016, including accountability methods.
“We have a formula that is the amount of apprehensions comma the amount of people that get away from us and of course the amount of folks that go back south into Mexico” said Deputy Chief Ortiz sitting behind a large wood desk.
In some areas, this formula though is based on an honor system.
“We expect our agents to be very diligent in accounting for the amount of people that are crossing. So we’re trying to put as many agents on the immediate border area so we can account for as much of the traffic that’s coming across the river. We have to figure out how to ‘shrink’ the guess or the honor system out of it.” said Deputy Chief Ortiz
Apprehension figures are easier to track, 1 person equals 1 apprehension.
However, closing the apprehension-to-loss gap statistic, more tech and more money is needed.
“So the budget itself is pretty constant maybe a little lower than it was last year” said Deputy Chief Ortiz
Less funding leads to a bigger problem, security and deterrents. Smugglers will send groups to distract agents with processing while drugs are being crossed at another area.
Currently, Hidalgo County has the highest trafficking and apprehension numbers.
It also has virtually the same manning as back in 2014.
With 2017’s fiscal year underway, military grade technology could be on the way. Including an R.V.S.S. Camera operating system [surveillance cameras once used in military combat zones.
“We’re funded for some camera systems that’ll be deployed in Hidalgo County and Starr County. And then we’re also trying to bring in some interim technology to help us bridge that gap but it takes a while” said Deputy Chief Ortiz
Also taking a “while” is processing immigration paperwork.
This is part of an agent’s regular duties.
150 agents from low trafficking sectors were brought to the RGV sector to process and patrol but federal law prohibits outside personal to do the work.
On top of stacks of paperwork, different counties require more time.
“If you have apprehended somebody from Mexico the processing is expedited or a lot quicker. We experience about 75% of our traffic is from Central America that certainly increases the amount of effort that you have to place into processing.”
With an average of 700 people being apprehended a day, boots on the ground eventually are boots in the office.
December is going to be busy.
Statically, trafficking increase during the holidays, for what the department of homeland security calls “family reunification.”
At the height of the immigration surge in 2014, mass groups of unaccompanied children crossed.
In 2016, entire families are coming to unify with others in the U.S. already.
Border Patrol announced recently a new processing facility to open in Donna.
With 2016, have a 54% increase of apprehensions, a stale budget, agents spending entire shifts processing and limited technology, border protection is at risk in an endless cycle of seek, surrender, avoid danger, process, repeat.
For a look at the statistics used for this report. https://www.cbp.gov/newsroom/stats/southwest-border-unaccompanied-children/fy-2016