McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — Immigration on the sprawling South Texas border continued to dominate national and international news in 2022. Here is a look back at this year’s most significant stories from this part of the Southwest borderlands:
No. 5: Migration pattern change
For the first time in decades, the Rio Grande Valley was not the No. 1 location for border encounters, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection. In Fiscal Year 2022, the Del Rio Sector took that mantel as an unprecedented number of asylum seekers crossed the Rio Grande by the hundreds into border cities like Del Rio and Eagle Pass, Texas.
These changes in migration patterns — which Border Patrol say were largely influenced by Mexican transnational criminal organizations and drug cartels that determine when and where migrants cross the border — took small, rural border towns off guard.
A Border Patrol agent loads a woman and small child into a vehicle on Oct. 13, 2022, as a line of other migrants just apprehended after crossing the border from Ciudad Acuña, Mexico, into Eagle Pass, Texas, await transport. (Right) Migrants on Sept. 4, 2022, make a human line and throw a rope in Eagle Pass to a woman actively drowning in the Rio Grande as she tried swim across the border after heavy rainfalls struck the area. (Sandra Sanchez/Border Report File Photos)
Dozens of migrants have drowned trying to cross the swollen Rio Grande during record rainfall to the region, resulting in mass unidentified graves at a cemetery in Maverick County, which was ill equipped to handle so many migrant deaths.
In Fiscal Year 2022, there were 2.2 million migrant encounters along the Southwest border. That included 480,931 in the Del Rio Sector, which was an increase of 85%; and 468,124 in the RGV Sector, which was down 15%, according to CBP.
So far in Fiscal Year 2023, the Del Rio Sector is again ahead of the RGV with migrant border land encounters, including a Dec. 8 encounter of a single group of 704 migrants in Eagle Pass.
But so far in Fiscal Year 2023, the El Paso Sector currently has had the most migrant encounters along the Southwest border, up 260% from Fiscal Year 2022. In October and November, El Paso had 106,561 migrant encounters; Del Rio Sector has had 90,482; and the RGV Sector has had 56,118 encounters, according to CBP data.
At this rate, El Paso could take the lead from Del Rio for Fiscal Year 2023, but that’s yet to be seen.
No. 4 – Republicans win seats in blue South Texas
In 2022, Republican national leaders and organizations targeted South Texas, a traditionally Democratic stronghold, and turned congressional and legislative districts red in heated elections.
U.S. Rep.-elect Monica De La Cruz won Texas Congressional District 15, which includes McAllen. On Jan. 3 she will become the first Latina and Republican to be sworn in to Congress to represent this sprawling border district that includes the San Antonio suburbs. She beat Democratic newcomer Michelle Vallejo, a small businessowner, as part of what the GOP touted the Texas Triple Threat Latinas, AKA ‘spicy tacos.’
Her two GOP compatriots from South Texas, however, did not win in November, despite running on platforms promising that if elected they would be tougher on border security.
U.S. Rep. Mayra Flores, a Republican, won a special election in June and became the first Mexican-born woman elected to Congress. But she lost in November in the General Election to U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, a Democrat, who has represented Texas Congressional District 15 for three terms. Gonzalez switched to run in District 34 after the Texas Legislature redistricted his McAllen home into that district.
Flores is the wife of a Border Patrol agent. So is Cassy Garcia, a Republican, who lost in November to longtime U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, a Democrat, for Texas Congressional District 28. Cuellar is on board to be the ranking member of the House Appropriations Homeland Security Committee for the 118th Congress when it convenes on Jan. 3.
And for the first time in decades, two Republicans, will represent the RGV in the upcoming 88th Texas Legislature that starts Jan. 10 in Austin. State Rep. Ryan Guillen, of Rio Grande City, and Rep.-elect Janie Lopez, of San Benito, both beat Democrats and will be among three state senators and eight state representatives to represent the RGV in Austin. The rest are Democrats.
No. 3 – Uvalde tragedy
The May 24 deaths of 19 students and two teachers at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, brought the South Texas community, and the world to its knees.
A gunman entered the school and killed the victims with a high-powered automatic weapon. He also was killed.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott called it “a horrific tragedy that cannot be tolerated.”
The deaths led to heated debates about gun control measures in Texas and throughout the country.
Murals have been painted on buildings throughout Uvalde to honor those killed. And the city’s water fountain in the town square is lined with crosses honoring the deceased. (Sandra Sanchez/Border Report Photos)
No. 2 – Operation Lone Star buses migrants from Texas
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott took his Operation Lone Star border security initiative to new levels in 2022 when he began busing migrants who were released by federal officials into Texas cities to points elsewhere in the United States. Many of the bussed asylum seekers originated in Del Rio and Eagle Pass, Texas, and other South Texas cities.
On April 13 the first group of migrants were bused to Washington, D.C. in a charter bus hired by the Texas Division of Emergency Management at Abbott’s behest.
Since then, over 16,000 asylum seekers have been bused to these cities, according to Abbott’s office:
- Over 9,000 sent to Washington, D.C., including 130 asylum seekers who arrived in buses on Christmas Eve at the Naval Observatory where Vice President Kamala Harris lives.
- Over 4,900 sent to New York City since Aug. 5.
- Over 1,500 sent to Chicago since Aug. 31.
- Over 600 sent to Philadelphus since Nov. 15.
The busing strategy “has become an integral part of the Governor’s response to the Biden Administration’s open border policies, providing much-needed relief to overwhelmed and overrun Texas communities,” Abbott’s office said this week.
Since Operation Lone Star began in 2021, it has led to 336,000 migrant apprehensions and more than 23,000 criminal arrests, with more than 20,000 felony charges reported, according to Abbott’s office.
The multi-agency operation involves troopers from the Department of Public Safety and Texas National Guard with over 10,000 surged to border communities.
The state also is building its own border wall in rural Starr County in South Texas, paid with state and crowdsourced funds. Many more miles of wall are promised to be built in 2023, Abbott says.
No. 1 – Title 42 and its affects on border communities
Perhaps the biggest law enforcement tool that border agents have had to turnback asylum seekers has been Title 42 — a pandemic-era public health law enacted in 2020 by the Trump administration that immediately expels migrants back to Mexico to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The Biden administration has repeatedly tried to end Title 42 but 19 states, including Texas, have sued to keep the law enforced on the Southwest border.
Earlier this week, the Supreme Court extended Title 42 as cases play out through the court system. The Department of Homeland Security says it will continue enforcing Title 42.
Several South Texas community leaders are calling on members of Congress in 2023 to enact meaningful immigration reform that would create more legal pathways to citizenship, provide more work visas for migrants and address the root causes of migration from Central American and other nations that are driving migrants to the Southwest border.