Local News

Behind the story: Leyla Santiago explains why she went to the border

Posted August 4, 2014
Updated August 6, 2014

WRAL reporter Leyla Santiago

“We’re in.”

I didn’t sign my name. I didn’t CC anyone else. I just sent a quick email to the assistant news director to move forward with my next assignment. The assignment itself would not be as simple.

Last year, 154,453 people were caught crossing the border illegally into the Rio Grande Valley of Texas. What happens to someone caught depends on a variety of factors – country of origin, age, even the reason they left their country. The process and issues are complicated, but not new.

WRAL reporter Leyla Santigao Video blog 1: 'I'm nervous for how I will react'

So what has changed? Why the sudden focus on the border? Children.

From October to July of this year, border patrol apprehended 42,164 children crossing the border alone and illegally in the Rio Grande Valley.

During FY 2013, border patrol apprehended a total of 14,565 unaccompanied minors. That’s a 189 percent increase.

WRAL reporter Leyla Santiago Video blog 2: 'Some of these folks bring over women and children'

Most of them are not coming from the other side of the border. In fact, 75 percent of unaccompanied minors are coming from Central America.

Photographer Zac Gooch and I headed to the Rio Grande Valley. It’s an area the size of South Carolina. Summers can be extremely hot and humid. Zac and I had never been there before.

Over the next 10 days, we got to know the area and people near the border.

WRAL reporter Leyla Santiago Video blog 3: 'They are finding bodies'

We met a man who grew up on the border and whose family still owns land on the border. When he took us out to the property with him, he carried a shotgun and described how life along the border has changed. While on the Anzaldua family property, we could hear the shootouts right next door in Mexico.

We also had a chance to tour the McAllen Border Patrol station. It is one of the busiest in the Rio Grande Valley. Anyone caught crossing the border illegally in McAllen is taken to the facility to be processed and detained.

WRAL reporter Leyla Santiago Video blog 4: 'We are the only camera allowed'

We were all told not to communicate with any detainees. I wasn’t sure if saying hello would be considered communicating. I wasn’t sure if waving would be considered appropriate. I decided to just try to acknowledge them through eye contact.

I have learned that, sometimes, just the look in someone’s eyes can tell quite a story. For many of the women, their eyes screamed fatigue, worry and desperation. The toddlers’ eyes were filled with innocence and ignorance. The young girls appeared shy and vulnerable. The teen boys however, seemed playful and happy someone was just acknowledging their presence.

WRAL reporter Leyla Santiago Video blog 5: 'We do walk away a little beat up'

In cell number 116, a young boy, perhaps 11 or 12, popped his head up above the group of boys already glued to the window. He waved, giggled, then blew me a kiss and quickly ducked back down behind the others. When the other boys realized what he had done, they laughed and teased him.

Each person had his or her own story. That is what I wanted to hear. We’ve heard the sound bites and quotes from officials featured in news stories. I wanted to go to the Rio Grande Valley to truly understand why children are taking such risks to cross into the U.S.

I wanted to hear from the people who understand the situation best what the real problems and potential solutions are for immigration and the latest surge of unaccompanied children. I wanted to understand the impact something like this has on North Carolina.

Tonight, on The Journey Alone, we dive into the issue. Join me at 7 p.m. on WRAL-TV.


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  • Realthoughts Aug 5, 2014

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    Completely agree, the US could pay off the national debt for all that spend fighting every else's battles and trying to solve the problems of other countries.

  • Denise Martin Aug 5, 2014
    user avatar

    She did the story to make us feel sorry for these children who's parents told them to "go cross the boarder". Seems to me once they hit the Mexican side they should have stopped.

    I'm sick to death of the USA taking in, sending money too and fighting other countries wars. Our gov't doesn't take care of it's own but sure tries to take care of everyone else.

    I say send them back and make their parents pay for it.

  • Realthoughts Aug 5, 2014

    View quoted thread

    I'm sure my great, great, great, great, relative of some sort came from another country. They also probably came to this great country through a process established by our government of that time and not just hopping the border illegally. I happy for them to come to our country provided they go through the correct process. What does allowing them to come here illegally say to all those who try to come here legally?

  • meeper Aug 5, 2014

    "Behind the story" Future Democat voters spread to all 50 states. This is all by plan. Then we'll have to accept the kids parents, grandparents, cousins, neices, nephews etc. Where is the money going to come from? It will be added on to the deficit for your kids and grandkids to pay off. Wake up America! Don't continue to fall for this nonsense.

  • raleighboy524 Aug 5, 2014

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    We're all immigrants. Where did your ancestors come from? Imagine if folks had had your attitude when your ancestors tried to come here.

  • theysayirock Aug 5, 2014

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    Glad to see you don't have the same grace for your fellow man that "someone" has for you. Just another example of hypocritical right wing "Christians". People like you don't want to spend a dime on people, but will always support an almost infinite military industry budget that spreads death anywhere it goes. Very "Christ Like",

  • Van Peterson Aug 4, 2014
    user avatar

    There is NO WAY that very young children walked all those hundreds of miles from Central America ALONE, without provisions or help!! So who is bringing them to the border and sending them here and why are we doing nothing?

  • James Barefoot Aug 4, 2014
    user avatar

    Real thoughts , I agree, we cannot take care of the world,, The USA will be a third world country in 50 years or less,, Just look back over the last 50 and where we came from..

  • Realthoughts Aug 4, 2014

    This story is just a story to try and get me to sympathize with the illegals. I am sorry things are so bad in their country, but that does not mean our country has to be the fix for it. What about all the starving US kids here? Who is taking care of them?