MCALLEN, TEXAS (KVEO)—Hundreds of migrants are entering the U.S. through the Rio Grande Valley in hopes of living the American dream.
However, data shows the majority of those crossing the border are doing so illegally.
In border towns like Mission and La Joya, baseball parks and nearby railroad tracks have become the new hot spot where hundreds of undocumented immigrants present themselves to U.S. Border Patrol agents.
“We’ve seen a drastic increase in illegal immigration, especially here in South Texas,” said Alex Martinez, an immigration attorney practicing in the city of McAllen.
Martinez, who has practiced law for 12 years, says the change in policies are triggering the increase.
“The policies have now been announced to be laxer, more flexible due to the change in administration, that has definitely been an opportunity for individuals that are in the business of bringing in people illegally,” said Martinez, “It has been a source of motivation of income, to encourage others and say come on in illegally and this administration will treat you favorably.”
According to Border Patrol RGV Sector Chief Brian Hastings, there have been more than 200,000 apprehensions this year in the Rio Grande Valley sector alone.
Over 50 groups of 100 or more people have been found in the last six months and more than 18,000 unaccompanied children have turned themselves into agents after crossing illegally.
“People are just going around that and going in illegally,” said Martinez.
Just like Ana-Karen Enriquez, a mother from Honduras who crossed illegally with her 4-year-old son through La Joya.
“Over in Honduras, there’s so much corruption. You can’t go to the police,” Enriquez tells KVEO in Spanish.
Enriquez said she has family in Houston waiting for her.
She tells KVEO she paid $6,000 to smugglers to cross her son and her on a raft across the Rio Grande.
When asked why not use that money to apply for a visa or legal citizenship, Martinez says it’s just easier to do it illegally.
“For government fees, it’ll vary from $1,200 to $2,500 depending on whether the person is a minor, applying with their parents, or the counsel of processing,” said Martinez.
But the biggest turn off is the lengthy process it can be.
“It really depends on the asylum application to see if it’ll be one to two years or maybe even five to seven years because the system for removal proceedings is extremely slow and has been stalled due to COVID-19,” Martinez said.
In turn, this backlog in court is creating a chain reaction for illegal crossings, like Ana, who was taken by Border Patrol agents. With current policies, she will be processed and released into the U.S. with documents.
“They are issued a document that says, ‘We have processed you. In the future, you will be cited to go to immigration court,’ but these individuals do not understand the depth, the meaning of these documents and from their standpoint, it is seen as a permit, a ticket to be free to go wherever you want,” Martinez said.
This can often leave no incentive for those seeking the legal path to citizenship and sometimes hurts the chances of someone seeking asylum the legal way.
“The practice right now is once you’re caught, you just continue trying over and over again,” Martinez said.
Currently, neither the Biden administration nor Congress has officially changed the path to citizenship, leaving many people in limbo.
“Until we have a final bill, we cannot know who qualifies and who doesn’t,” Martinez said.
Currently, the U.S. is giving $112 million to countries of the western hemisphere and over $22 million to El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico, according to the U.S. Department of State to help those countries with things like illegal immigration.
“The United States also continues to partner with El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico to address the economic, security, and governance drivers of illegal immigration to the United States, particularly given the ongoing health crisis,” said a spokesperson of the U.S. Department of State.