McALLEN, Texas — A Honduran woman clutched her small baby boy from the back of a Border Patrol transport truck. She was sitting with 12 other people, mostly children, who had just made their way from Reynosa, Mexico, across the Rio Grande by the Anzalduas port of entry in Texas.
The mother, who had crossed first with one baby, had left her infant and older son along the banks of the river in Mexico. Her two children followed in a second raft and joined their mother after the Border Patrol took her into custody.
“We’re fleeing gang violence,” the mother told the Border Patrol agent, who detailed the conversation to TheBlaze on the condition that he not be named. The group did not run, but voluntarily turned themselves in to U.S. federal custody and claimed what is known as credible fear to apply for asylum in the U.S.
They all knew it was only a matter of time before they would be set free.
Border Patrol agents along the southwest border have been directed not to speak with journalists after the public became aware that more than 47,000 undocumented children have illegally entered into the country over the past eight months. Most of the undocumented children crossed through the Rio Grande Valley sector and many times, they traveled alone.
Several of the children in the Honduran woman’s group were under the age of 10 and had traveled alone looking for their parents who were in the country illegally and seeking asylum. Like most children who come, they made the dangerous trek believing that they would not be deported once they arrive. Some traveled clinging to the top of the train known as “The Beast” from Central America, or piled in overcrowded buses until they reached the border towns of Mexico.
Many of the children’ parents have paid thousands of dollars to “polleros” — meaning “chicken herders” — to smuggle their children through the Rio Grande crossing. Some of that money is then paid to the drug cartels, mainly the Gulf Cartel, which controls the territory on the Mexican side of the river.
In this particular instance, all the children and women were secured in the back of the transport truck. Once the hatch was closed, their frightened faces disappeared behind the darkened windows.
Rehearsed and Deliberate
The agents were roughly 20 minutes from the McAllen Border Patrol station where the 13 new illegal immigrants would be processed with more than 1,000 other people being held in the small facility.
The group, like the thousands of illegal crossers before them, would be held until they were bused or flown out to other facilities across the country for long-term care.
“They have heard that anybody who crosses into the United States can stay,” said a Border Patrol agent who works in the sector and is not authorized to speak on the matter. “So they keep coming.”
And the notion that everyone can stay in the United States once they cross the border seems to be a recurring theme among illegal immigrants coming from Central America – mainly Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. They all know that their family and friends before them received an “order to appear in court” document that allows them safe passage throughout the country.
The illegal immigrants rarely report to court within the 90 days ordered, and most disappear into the fabric of immigrant communities throughout the country without fear of deportation.
In fact, the children and adults respond with very deliberate and rehearsed answers when questioned by Border Patrol.
They immediately claim credible fear from gang violence or say, “I was scared I would be killed,” one of the Border Patrol agents working along the border told TheBlaze.
“It’s something they’re all saying and it’s obvious that it is well-rehearsed and it is a consistent story,” said Albert Spratte, a Border Patrol agent and union representative with the National Border Patrol Council’s Local 3307 in the Rio Grande Valley sector. “We can’t even get them to answer their name before they tell us the gangs were the reason they fled their country.”
Spratte and Border Patrol Agent Chris Cabrera, the main union representative in the sector, spent the day with TheBlaze along the Rio Grande.
Cabrera said that on “at least one occasion we had a confirmed MS-13 that was released to his family,” referring to the ultraviolent transnational Mara Salvatrucha gang. Because the 17-year-old had no criminal history in the United States, he was allowed to stay.
“Once they get north of the checkpoint and into the interior of the United States, they’ve basically disappeared and there is no accountability for them. [U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement] isn’t going to deport them and these people know it,” Spratte said. “It’s worth it for them to come now just in case something later changes with regard to deportation.”
Forty Yards to Freedom
A toddler’s “Little Mermaid” life vest lay on the rocky dirt along the riverbank. Old torn shoes, ripped-up vests and empty water bottles were scattered among the tall dry brush where drug runners, as well as immigrants, hide from law enforcement.
The river is dangerous and deceiving. Many illegal immigrants, including children, continue to underestimate the current and drown, Spratte said as he pointed to the other side of the river.
“People die in this river all the time,” Spratte said.
Sometimes, the dead come to rest on the U.S. side of the river.
But the temptation to cross is overwhelming and those who brave it know that as they sit along the sandy banks of Reynosa after a months-long journey or more, the U.S. border and their salvation is less than 40 yards away.
Many of don’t carry any form of identification, so federal law enforcement officials are left guessing as to how old they are, where they are from and what their real identity is.
“Basically, you have to rely on the person who just entered to be totally honest about who they are and where they are going,” Spratte said. “We know that isn’t going to happen.”
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