Illegal Migrant Surge — 60 Miles from the Border

Small Texas towns on the front line of Biden’s border debacle, and the worst is yet to come

By Andrew R. Arthur on March 30, 2022

Two weeks ago, my colleague Todd Bensman warned that the Mexican government was preparing to release tens of thousands of migrants it had caught making their way to the United States. Recent reports from Texas suggest that Bensman was right, as the Border Patrol’s Del Rio sector is so overwhelmed it is releasing hundreds of migrants 60 miles away from the border to make their way into the interior of the United States. Those towns are on the front line of Biden’s border debacle.

Del Rio Sector. Del Rio sector hugs the banks of the Rio Grande between Laredo sector to the southeast and Big Bend (previously Marfa) sector to the northwest. It has not, however, been a hot zone for illegal migration — at least not in comparison to other Southwest border sectors — until recently.

For example, in FY 2019, when Border Patrol apprehensions exceeded 851,500 at the Southwest border, fewer than 57,300 illegal migrants were apprehended in Del Rio sector. That year, by comparison, agents in Rio Grande Valley sector (“RGV”, on the far eastern stretch of the border, beginning at the Gulf of Mexico) caught more than 339,000 aliens who had entered illegally, and Border Patrol’s El Paso sector accounted for 182,000-plus apprehensions.

Things were even slower in FY 2018: That year, there were just fewer than 400,000 Southwest border apprehensions, but Del Rio sector accounted for less than 4 percent of them. Agents in the RGV, by contrast, apprehended 10 times as many illegal migrants that fiscal year.

Del Rio sector was staffed accordingly. From a high of nearly 1,700 agents in the sector in FY 2010, the cadre there fell to just over 1,500 in FY 2020. RGV had twice as many agents in FY 2020, while Tucson sector’s strength was more than 140 percent larger than Del Rio sector’s.

Things change quickly at the border. Apprehensions surged more than 542 percent in Del Rio sector between FY 2020 (40,342) and FY 2021 (259,294). And it looks like they are about to get worse. In the first five months of FY 2022, apprehensions in Del Rio sector are up more than 215 percent (to 153,271) compared to the same period in FY 2021.

It is difficult to think of a worse place for that surge to occur. Agents in Del Rio sector are responsible for 245 miles of the 1,954-mile Southwest border, and the sector’s jurisdiction reaches 300 miles into Texas to account for an area of more than 55,000 square miles.

And unlike the San Diego, El Paso, or Tucson sectors, or even the RGV, there are no cities nearby where migrants can be sent for processing. The biggest town, Del Rio, is home to fewer than 35,000 residents (the population has dropped since the 2010 census), while the town of Eagle Pass, an hour down the road, has just over 28,000 residents. The closest city, San Antonio, is about 160 miles away.

Two facts to give you an idea of how remote Del Rio sector is: First, I took my son there when he was learning how to drive, figuring that there was not much that he could run into. Second, game ranches, where tourists can shoot exotic animals, are big business there. Any place a New York stockbroker can squeeze off a hundred rounds at an Axis deer without worrying about hitting anything else is pretty rural.

The Disaster in Uvalde and Carrizo Springs, Texas. Which brings me first to Uvalde, a town 60 miles inland from the Rio Grande. When I was there in August, Texas State troopers deployed to the border as part of Operation Lone Star cruised through from time to time, looking for migrants who were trying to hook up (after days of walking) with their smugglers, or to hop the freight trains north.

These were “got-aways”, migrants who did not want to be caught, either because they knew they were likely to be expelled under CDC orders issued under Title 42 of the U.S. Code in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, or because they were smuggling drugs or other contraband themselves.

Migrants are a lot easier to find there of late. Border Patrol detention facilities in Del Rio and Eagle Pass are so full that agents are transporting them — up to 150 per day — to Uvalde to drop them off to seek transit into the interior.

Uvalde is quaint but sparsely populated. There are fewer than 25,000 people in all of Uvalde County (which covers just over 1,600 square miles), and the city of Uvalde is home to most of them — just over 16,000 full-time residents. That means that the town grows about 1 percent per day in population until the released migrants leave and new ones show up.

That would be like Border Patrol dropping off more than 5,000 migrants in Tucson, Ariz. (population 542,000), every 24 hours and expecting them to move along. Of course, Tucson is a city and could handle the flow. Uvalde? Not so much.

Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin complains: “People in our community are fed up with it,” explaining that the number of migrants Border Patrol is releasing exceeds the number of seats on the buses headed out of town. He is hoping to get FEMA funding “to be used for future transportation costs” to handle the surge.

FEMA — the Federal Emergency Management Agency — is synonymous with “disaster”, and a man-made disaster is what the mayor and his town have on their hands. As he explains: “It’s a powder keg that’s going to blow up. And this government has no regard for American citizens.”

It is a scene that is being replayed 50 miles south in the town of Carrizo Springs, Texas, which sits 40 miles southeast of the Eagle Pass Port of Entry. Border Patrol informed that town (population 5,203) last week that it would be releasing migrants there, too.

As Carrizo Springs Mayor Oscar Puente explained: “[The] agent in charge [said it] could be 10, could be 50, could be 150 [individuals released]. I mean, the daily tally will change day-to-day once they start releasing them.”

The locals are not ready, and the mayor explains that, unlike other nearby areas where there are charities or churches to assist migrants, there is no such support in his town: “We’re starting from scratch, literally”. Worse, according to the Washington Examiner, there are no planes, trains, or buses the migrants can use to get out of Dimmit County, home to Carrizo Springs.

Rep. Tony Gonzales (R-Texas), whose district includes Del Rio, Eagle Pass, Uvalde, and Carrizo Springs, put it most aptly when he tweeted:

The Tapachula Connection. Bensman warned that this onslaught was coming when he reported on March 14:

In the far south of Mexico, the central government is about to release a sea of U.S.-bound migrants it has dammed up behind the bureaucratic barrier in the southernmost city of Tapachula. The coming swell has risen to more than 73,000 angry, mobbing, rioting migrants from January 1 through March 8.

It is not the first time that the Mexican government has taken such steps, as Bensman explained. Last December:

Tapachula was experiencing much migrant indigestion as it is right now: 50,000 blocked and angry migrants brawling, fighting, demonstrating, and disrupting city life every day. Mexico’s central government ordered that special “QR Code Visas” be made available to all 50,000. The QR Code Visas required migrants to board hundreds of government-arranged buses that were heading to 14 different designated Mexican cities in the north.

When it was all over, no one noticed that tens of thousands headed for the border in an “ant operation” exodus over about a week’s time between Christmas and New Year’s Day.

One can hardly blame the Mexican government. Unlike the Biden administration, officials on the other side of the border have policies and plans to block the northward movement of migrants from Central America and further abroad. Mexico City is trying to discourage illegal migrants; Washington, D.C., on the other hand, has no answer, aside from Title 42.

But the rumor mill suggests that Title 42 will end soon. Arizona’s two senators — both Democrats — wrote the White House last week to complain that:

To date, we have not yet seen evidence that DHS has developed and implemented a sufficient plan to maintain a humane and orderly process in the event of an end to Title 42. We are aware of the updated Irregular Mass Migration Contingency Plan that DHS has developed, but — with potential changes to Title 42 coming as early as next week — that strategy contains unanswered questions and does not seem likely to allow DHS to secure the border, protect our communities, and ensure migrants are treated fairly and humanely.

Not surprisingly one of the pair, Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.), is in a tough reelection fight.

With tens of thousands of pent-up migrants in Tapachula, Title 42 on the (purported) verge of ending, and a Border Patrol sector so overwhelmed that agents are dumping aliens on the streets of veritable villages miles from the border, it is highly unlikely that there is any border security in the offing. Rep. Gonzales was correct: “This is the consequence of a broken immigration system and failed policies.” And that consequence is falling hardest on those towns least prepared to deal with it.