Local News

Influx of children crossing border from Mexico to Texas

Posted August 4, 2014 7:00 p.m. EDT

— The Rio Grande Valley in southern Texas is a place where two cultures merge and many try to achieve the American dream. It is an ever-changing community with people constantly coming and going, often unseen. In the valley, the issue of immigration is part of everyday life for its residents and has been for years. But recently, something has changed.

“At one time, I saw about 200 women and kids coming down this very road,” said resident Lorenza Anzaldua Jr.

Anzaldua is one of the few people who still own land along the U.S.-Mexico border. The road from the border funnels onto the the land where he grew up. He goes there to reminisce and says he has seen a growing number of children crossing the border illegally and alone.

“There’s been three kids since this started – this fiasco, this invasion – I wanted to just take home and tell my wife, ‘Hey, we're adopting them,’ but we can't do that,” he said.

Anzaldua sees children like Alejandro, from Honduras. He crossed the border alone, and WRAL News was there as he told border patrol he was not scared. His parents, he said, are in San Antonio.

In a way, Alejandro is far from alone. More than 52,000 children have crossed the southwest border without a parent this year, according to Border Patrol. So far this year, the number is double the number of unaccompanied children from all of last year – an overwhelming majority come through the Rio Grande Valley.

Women, children cross river during the day

To get the children into the U.S., families often pay thousands of dollars to smugglers and cartels.

“Typically, we see a lot of activity at night,” said Border Patrol agent Steve Passement. “With this current issue we have going on, we have a lot of influx during the day.”

During the day, many women and unaccompanied children cross the Rio Grande. The influx can also be seen at border patrol detention facilities across the valley.

WRAL’s camera was one of the few recently allowed into the McAllen Border Patrol Station – one of the busiest in the area. Women, children and men caught crossing the border in McAllen are brought there. At its peak this year, border patrol apprehended about 1,300 people in one day. The max capacity at the station is 380.

Just a few blocks down, officials have responded with a brand new facility – one solely for unaccompanied children. The $3.6 million project will provide shelter and health screenings.

“This is going to be a primary second stage from when we arrest them and are in our facilities,” said Border Patrol agent Kevin Oaks. “This will be the stage that we try to get them from here immediately into HHS (Health and Human Services) custody so they can get them into shelters.”

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services tries to connect children to family members in the U.S. Until then, they stay in government-run shelters, which have caused controversy. Welcomed or not, the children making it into the shelters might consider themselves lucky, because they no longer face the dangers of being smuggled into the U.S.

Border Patrol agents apprehend thousands of people in McAllen each week. Many go undetected and continue the journey 75 miles north to Brooks County. WRAL traveled to the town of Falfurrias, in Brooks County, to experience the conditions.

Hot, harsh conditions claim hundreds of lives

“Nine out of 10 calls deal with undocumented aliens here,” said Brooks County sheriff’s deputy Elias Pompa.

Not long into his shift, a deputy spots a man on the side of the road, flagging him down for help. That man is 22-year-old Luzbin, from Guatemala, who was on his way to Houston to find work. Luzbin told WRAL that he crossed the border alone and has been traveling for a month. After feeling too dehydrated and nauseous to continue, he flagged down the authorities for help.

The hot, sandy, harsh conditions of Brooks County have claimed hundreds of lives. This year, deputies have found more than 40 bodies of people believed to have crossed the border illegally. The youngest was 16.

Lavoyger Durham, manager of El Tule Ranch, said he recently found the body of a man from El Salvador. In his 24 years of working on the ranch, he says he has found about 20 bodies – five so far this year – all believed to be illegal immigrants.

“Well, you have a sense of sorrow, and you must remember that some loved one wherever he was from lost a loved one, and they don’t even know, and they might not ever know it,” Durham said. “Whether it’s legal or illegal, they deserve some dignity.”

About once a week, Durham fills a large barrel with gallon jugs of water for thirsty people passing through.

“I usually put about 10 or 15 (jugs) in here,” he said. “I get criticized, saying that I aid and abet them. And I tell them that I've got this water station because of the five dead people that I've found, and I've got a heart. I've got pity, and I've got compassion. I don't want people to die on this ranch that I run.”

Living near the border has a way of giving people like Durham and Anzaldua a personal understanding of what is happening on the border. They've seen how things have changed over the years – the conditions, the law enforcement, the people and now, the children.

For many of the children, home is not directly on the other side of the border. For most, home is beyond Mexico in Central America.

About three-fourths of the children are boys age 14 and older, and most come from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, according to the Administration for Children and Families. In fiscal year 2013, the children originated from:

  • Guatemala: 37 percent
  • El Salvador: 26 percent
  • Honduras: 30 percent
  • Mexico: 3 percent
  • Ecuador: 2 percent
  • Other: 3 percent