LA JOYA, Texas (Border Report) — Sitting huddled together in a grassy field outside a community park, a group of about 50 mostly migrant women with small babies in their arms tried to protect each other from the stiff Gulf Coast breeze just moments after Border Patrol agents apprehended them before dawn Tuesday in this small border town just north of the Rio Grande.
Their jeans were still wet at the bottom from crossing the river on rafts. Several were coughing. And in just this one area in the small town of La Joya, Border Patrol agents, including one from the horse patrol unit, apprehended about 200 migrants from the early morning darkness of 5 a.m. until the sun came up along the southern-most road that runs parallel to the river.
Border Patrol agents did not speak on-camera, nor did they give their names, but allowed Border Report to record video of the migrants as they waited to board U.S. Department of Homeland Security buses, as well as the families who had just crossed from Mexico into the United States through this part of South Texas about 20 miles west of the city of McAllen.
Agents also gave an exclusive perspective on how cartels and human traffickers in Mexico organize and group the migrants by placing colored and numbered wristbands on them.
“It’s like a ticket to the carnival,” one Border Patrol agent said.
Another speculated that the cartels allow the migrants multiple opportunities to cross as long as they have the wristband. “They can reuse it and keep trying to cross with it,” he said.
On the ground at the park in La Joya, several paper wristbands of different colors and numbers could be found .
Human traffickers charge $5,000 to $8,000 per person, and right now most migrants are crossing with very young children, whom the Biden administration are allowing to stay legally in the United States while they wait for their immigration proceedings.
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas has blamed human traffickers for profiting on unaccompanied youth and young families and perpetuating the flow of migration North.
“The inhumane way smugglers abuse children while profiting off parents’ desperation is criminal and morally reprehensible,” Mayorkas said on Wednesday. “A young girl died by drowning, a six-month-old was thrown into the river, and two young children were dropped from a wall and left in the desert alone. There can be no doubt that children are exceptionally vulnerable when placed in the hands of smugglers. There is grave risk they will be exploited and harmed. I applaud our heroic Border Patrol agents who have saved lives this week and every week, while putting their own lives at risk for the greater good of the country.”
From 5 a.m. until slightly before dawn broke, several additional groups of migrants were apprehended and marched in from other nearby areas, adding to what Border Patrol agents say is a daily occurrence in South Texas, which has been experiencing an influx in migrants crossing from Mexico since the end of January.
Two miles away, 40 other migrants also were apprehended, a Border Patrol radio crackled with updates that were occasionally drowned out by the sounds of barking stray dogs.
“They’re everywhere,” one Border Patrol agent said. “If you drive back there you might hit someone,” the agent said pointing to the thick brush on the other side of an earthen levee where Border Patrol agents say hundreds of migrants emerge usually in the pre-dawn darkness every day.
All of the migrants interviewed by Border Report said they were fleeing Central American countries fraught with economic hardships and devastated by back-to-back hurricanes. They said they want prosperity and a better future for their families in the United States.
Border Patrol agents quickly separated unaccompanied minors and asked their ages and home countries. They were lined up from tallest to smallest. A teenage girl and boy were removed from the line after both said they are 18.
They will most likely be deported back to Mexico under Title 42 travel restrictions, which have been eased to allow the acceptance of families traveling with young “tender age” children and unaccompanied migrant youth. All others are not allowed into the country to claim asylum under rules put in place by the Trump administration in March 2020 when the pandemic began.
Those under the age of 18 were eventually put on a large white bus and taken to U.S. Customs and Border Protection processing facilities where they were to be turned over to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Refugee Resettlement, as is U.S. policy.
The Washington Post reported Tuesday over 17,000 unaccompanied minors crossed the Southwest border in March — surpassing a record 11,861 youth who came alone in May 2019.
The rise in migrant youth crossing into the Rio Grande Valley began to steadily increase immediately following the November election of Joe Biden. Many migrants interviewed have told Border Report that they believe the Biden administration will be more welcoming and accepting of asylum-seekers than the Trump administration, which had implemented a remain-in-Mexico policy that forced migrants to wait in Mexico during their U.S. asylum hearing process.
By 5:15 a.m. Tuesday, many of the migrants said they had been waiting for over an hour. The shortest little girl at the end of the line of unaccompanied minors, who said she was 5-years-old, told an agent in Spanish that she was cold and he got her a Mylar blanket and a cup of water. And he brought her closer to his vehicle and sat with her on the ground as she warmed up.
Soon afterwards, the agent, who was a medic, passed out Mylar blankets to the various groups, which at this point numbered about 125 migrants, including 20 unaccompanied minors. Temperatures hovered around 70 degrees but the wet, humid air from the Gulf of Mexico felt chilly and the migrants said they were cold having just been in the river.
Most held sleeping babies swaddled in thick blankets, and said they crossed on old tires or rafts the 150 meters-wide river spanning the two countries.
Border Patrol agents grouped all families with “tender age” children — those ages 6 and under — into one area.
On Jan. 28, the Biden administration began allowing families with these young “tender age” children to be paroled into the United States as they seek asylum after the northern Mexican state of Tamaulipas, just to the south of here, told U.S. officials after Joe Biden took office that they would no longer allow these very young children to be deported back to Mexico.
A few families with older children were held back along the fence line, and it was likely that they would be deported, or possibly sent to a family detention facility.
Earlier, the medic sent via ambulance to a local hospital one young boy who came with a family. Border Patrol agents an hour later let each know that the boy had tested positive for the coronavirus.
CBP officials do not test migrants they apprehend for coronavirus but will refer for further medical care those, like the young boy, who show overt symptoms.
Upon hearing that the boy had tested positive, several Border Patrol agents shook their heads and raised their eyebrows and said that is how it is for them every day on the frontlines.
Every Border Patrol agent asked by Border Report said they had been vaccinated, including some recently at a DHS Operation Vaccinate Our Workforce (VOW) vaccination clinic held at the migrant processing tent facility in Donna, Texas.
Cassie Escalante, 30, of Nicaragua, hugged her 9-year-old daughter who was beneath a Mylar blanket that was flapping noisily in the wind. The mother’s bright yellow hoodie was tight around her face and she wore a blue surgical mask. She said she traveled for a month via taxi, buses and much of it walking to get to South Texas.
“We have been affected very much by the hurricanes and we want a normal life. We really have nothing. In Nicaragua, the schooling for children does not offer a good education. It is a country where life is not sure,” she said in Spanish.
“I want a better life for my child,” Claudia Flores, of Honduras, said as she sat in a group, shaking with cold. She traveled for 22 days but said she wasn’t scared of being arrested.
“I want a better opportunity for my family for my children and to work,” Juan Ramon Soto, of Honduras, said holding an 18-month-old sleeping boy in his arms.
Several Hondurans sat together in the group as a rooster crowed and the sun started to peak out.
“I am calm and grateful to God for our safe passage and crossing,” Jaqueline Jimenez, of Honduras, said with her sleeping 3-year-old daughter laying across her side.
In Spanish, she said they loaded up at 5 p.m. Monday night in a raft and she used a big trash bag and covered herself and her daughter. Her friend was with her and they helped one another to stay dry and navigate the river.
“I want to work to move forward in life,” Jimenez said.
Sandra Sanchez can be reached at Ssanchez@borderreport.com.