In a June 11, 2019, post, I described the unfolding national-security and humanitarian disaster at the Southwest border, as Border Patrol apprehensions in May reached 132,887. The majority (90 percent according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) statistics) of those apprehended were from Mexico and the "Northern Triangle" countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. A recent New York Times article, however, indicates that increasing numbers of nationals from around the world are now coming to the border to exploit our lax immigration laws.
That article, captioned "A New Migrant Surge at the Border, This One From Central Africa", noted an influx of nationals from Africa (primarily Angola and the Democratic Republic of the Congo) across the border in one particular part of Texas:
Since October 2018, more than 700 migrants from Africa have been apprehended at what has become their main point of entry, the Border Patrol's Del Rio sector, a largely rural stretch of Texas border that is nearly 200 miles west of San Antonio.
African migrants have shown up at the border in the past, but only in small numbers, making the sudden arrival of more than 700 all the more surprising to Border Patrol officials. From fiscal years 2007 to 2018, a total of 25 migrants from Congo and Angola were arrested and taken into custody in the Border Patrol's nine sectors on the southern border, according to agency data.
From 25 migrants across the entire border in an 11-year period to 700 in just eight months at one sector is a more than 300-fold increase. The question becomes, then, how many more migrants from those two countries are on their way to the United States and how many more will follow? To address those questions, one needs to look at the factors that are pushing, and pulling, them to the United States.
I was in Del Rio in August 2017, and compared to the much more active Rio Grande Valley (RGV) sector of the Border Patrol, it was a relatively quiet area. This was likely due to the relative remoteness of Mexican territory on the other side of the border, and the largely rural nature of the border on the Texas side. What's more, Del Rio is hundreds of miles from Brownsville, Texas, the U.S. point of entry nearest to Central America (through which the majority of these migrants have transited en route to the United States).
As the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) website describes that sector:
As a local office of the United States Border Patrol, the Del Rio Sector is responsible for detecting and preventing the smuggling and unlawful entry of undocumented immigrants into the United States along 210 miles of the Rio Grande River and Lake Amistad that forms the border between the U.S. and Mexico. This area of responsibility covers 59,541 square miles of Texas, and reaches 300 miles into Texas from the U.S.-Mexico border. The 41 counties in the Sector consist primarily of farms and ranches.
Simply put, it is not a place you would end up unless you intended to go there. So the smugglers that brought those migrants to the border plainly wanted them to end up there, likely because they know that there would be fewer Border Patrol agents in that sector (approximately 2,780 as of 2016, as opposed to more than 5,000 in the RGV) to process those aliens.
It appears that many of those African migrants traveled a circuitous route on their way to the United States. Specifically, the Times reported that many of the Congolese had gone to Angola and then on to Ecuador, and "through Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala, and Mexico to the South Texas border."
The journey as described was harrowing, with migrants spending months travelling by bus and foot. One woman spoke of how her child had died on the journey, and the article recounted tales of robberies, rape, and deaths from sickness and dehydration on the trip. The paper notes:
The most treacherous part of the journey for many of the Congolese was in the Darién Gap, a region of mountains, forest and swampland at the border between Panama and Colombia that is considered one of the world's most dangerous jungles, where smugglers and armed criminals prey on migrants.
It is a journey that refugees and asylum-seekers do not have to undertake, because there are alternative refuges along the way. According to the U.S. Department of State (DOS):
The 2017 [Ecuadoran] Human Mobility Law codifies protections guaranteed to migrants in the constitution, advances the protection of refugees and asylum seekers, and establishes provisions such as equal treatment before the law for migrants, nonrefoulement, and noncriminalization of irregular migration. As of September the government was developing regulations to implement the law. During the year large numbers of migrants and asylum seekers, and the country's economic slowdown, strained the government's immigration and social services, which worked closely with local, international, and civil society organizations to cover assistance gaps. The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concern.
Therefore, the migrants who were legitimately seeking protection could have either sought that protection in Ecuador itself, or been processed therein by UNHCR for resettlement elsewhere.
Not that DOS suggests that Ecuador would not have been a bad destination. While it noted that there have been reports of human rights abuses in that country, it continued: "The government took steps to investigate and prosecute officials who committed human rights abuses, as it engaged in efforts to strengthen democratic governance and promote respect for human rights."
Nor is Ecuador an outlier on the trip. DOS reports that in Colombia:
The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.
Despite these facts, those migrants trudged on through the dangers of the Darién Gap (as well as other locations) toward the United States.
Why? Let's assume that all 700 migrants have legitimate asylum claims, which they could have made in any asylum-granting country. In choosing to travel to the Del Rio Sector of the U.S.-Mexico border, they likely made an economic decision. According to the CIA, in 2017, the GDP per capita in Ecuador was $11,500, and in Colombia it was $14,400, compared to $59,800 in the United States. Still, Ecuador and Colombia are much wealthier than the Democratic Republic of the Congo ($800) or even Angola ($6,800).
Nor would the purported fears of those migrants have followed them to Ecuador or Colombia. The Times reports that the conditions from which these migrants are fleeing are country-specific: "The Congolese spoke of fleeing violent clashes between militia fighters and government soldiers, widespread corruption and government-led killings."
At the end of the day, however, our current lax border laws are likely acting as the main pull factor drawing these migrants to the United States. In the modern age of information technology, images of thousands of aliens entering the United States illegally can make it around the world in a matter of minutes. It would be simple for smugglers in those countries to exploit those images to sell potential migrants on the trip. And reporting on the arrival and resettlement of these migrants will likely just encourage more, notwithstanding the reported dangers of the journey.
The horrors of the journey to the United States, as detailed by the Times, are consistent with other reporting, which I have previously described. Congress needs to act to strengthen our border laws to prevent them from recurring in the future, on a much, much larger scale.
Until it does that, the number of Congolese and Angolans entering illegally will continue to grow, and nationals of other countries will be lured by the easy promises of criminal smuggling organizations. Border communities will continue to be overwhelmed, the sovereignty of the U.S. border will continue to be violated, and the threats to human life and dignity of those migrants will be compounded. Only the smugglers will benefit.