TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - U.S. Border Patrol Agents in the El Paso Sector of Texas have found themselves at the center of the migrant crisis along the U.S.-Mexico border.
In the recent weeks and months, migrants have been turning themselves in to agents in record numbers.
On one day alone in May, agents apprehended more than 1,000 migrants, mostly family units from Central America, in downtown El Paso. The city shares a border with Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico.
The El Paso Sector has also faced criticism about overcrowding and poor conditions at some of its facilities.
KOLD News 13’s Angelica Carrillo traveled to El Paso to get a firsthand look of the situation on the ground.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection denied KOLD’s requests to visit any facilities in the El Paso Sector.
Instead, our team spent the day on patrol with U.S. Border Patrol Agent Sara Cabrera and Agent Mario Escalante who spent 20 years working in the Tucson Sector, but has just recently returned to work in his hometown of El Paso.
When asked how Tucson differs from El Paso, Escalante said it is the geography.
Mexico sits about 50 yards away from U.S. soil, separated only by the Rio Grande River that acts as a natural barrier followed by a border fence that sits well into United States territory.
“Me being from here, that was almost a culture shock when I went from here to Arizona because I was so accustomed to this,” Escalante said.
Escalante explains infrastructure can’t be built in the flood plain because it would get washed away and there are several other federal waterway rules that dictate where a fence can be built.
“A lot of people cross it and they don’t know they’re in the United States, the majority, they think they have to cross that fence,” Escalante said.
But that detail isn’t stopping people from crossing into the U.S.
In fact, this area has been so overwhelmed; more than 5,000 migrants have been outsourced to other areas like Tucson to be processed.
“A lot of these apprehensions happen closer to the Tucson area so it’s just a lot more feasible for us instead of transporting them all the way back to El Paso, to go ahead and ask Tucson to help us out,” Escalante said.
During KOLD’s tour of the downtown area – two women and three children walked along the mostly empty riverbed up a dirt path into the U.S.
They were out of breath and out of water with a sense of relief on their faces – they’d made it.
Agents moved the two families out of the sun and under a bridge for processing. The group consisted of two families who met on the road from Honduras, more than a 1,600-mile trek. But the journey for these migrants is far from over. They’ll now be processed to then begin to make their way through the immigration system that could take several years.
A short time later, we spotted another family - a couple from Honduras and their little boy.
We asked how they got here.
“Muy triste,” are the woman’s only words: “Very sad.”
Her husband, Jorge, said they’d been traveling for nearly two months.
They’re seeking asylum to hopefully give their son a better future and say they are ready to work.
Each of these families is heading to some of the most overwhelmed facilities in the country.
However, agents say traffic has slowed slightly in recent weeks. Armed Mexican soldiers can be seen along the border.
When asked if they are making a difference, Escalante said, “That’s not something that right now we can say we’re going to factor. It’s still a little bit too soon.”
The summer heat and rising waters could also be factors.
But for the families that are already here, it’ll be an even tougher road as asylum laws get tighter, especially for those who cross through Mexico first.
Migrants, agents and the communities they affect now waiting on Washington to make a change.
“So that we can resolve and find a good answer for not just the overwhelming amount of people that we’re seeing, but also for the people who are coming so they have a good answer once they’re here,” Escalante said.