Migrants cross U.S. border in record numbers

▶ Watch Video: 10,000 migrants crossed the southern border with Mexico in one day

Eagle Pass, Texas — By 6:30 a.m., there were scores of migrants, including parents carrying young children and babies, between a seemingly endless line of razor wire and the Rio Grande, pleading with Texas National Guardsmen to grant them safe passage into the U.S.

“Please, let us through,” a woman in the river clamored in Spanish. “Let us pass,” another migrant yelled. “There are kids in the water,” a man said.

After wading across the Rio Grande near Eagle Pass, migrants attempt to get past the razor wire set up by Texas state officials. (Camilo Montoya-Galvez)

The migrants’ pleas, and the cries of children, quickly drowned out instructions from the guardsmen armed with rifles. Pointing their flashlights towards the river, the guardsmen told the migrants in their broken Spanish to turn back.

“Crossing here is illegal,” a guardsman noted.

“It’s not safe,” another visibly distressed National Guard member said as she watched migrants attempt to get through the wire.

A young man screamed when he appeared to cut himself on the wire. A mother was told by other migrants to calm down as she watched her son’s clothing become tangled with the wire. Instructed to only intervene in extraordinary cases, such as life-or-death situations, the Texas National Guard soldiers could do little but watch.

Despite their struggles, the migrants gradually made their way through the concertina wire on that Wednesday morning. The Guardsmen, who are not authorized to enforce federal immigration law, directed them to walk along a dirt road to be processed by Border Patrol agents, who were nowhere to be seen. The migrants lined up and started walking.

The day before, this reporter witnessed a similar scene. Dozens of migrants, including young children, crawled into the U.S. through a small breach in the concertina wire. While some women cried, a mother helped pull other migrants, including a boy, underneath the wire. At the same spot, a man pushed his young son through the wire before handing his daughter, a toddler, to her brother. As the daughter cried, the boy helped his father get past the wire.

A migrant father holds his young daughter after getting through coils of razor wire near Eagle Pass, Texas. His son looks towards the Rio Grande. (Camilo Montoya-Galvez)

The migrants changed after entering the U.S., leaving behind wet pants and shirts along the dirt road, which was littered with countless heaps of abandoned clothes and trash.

“I never thought something like this could happen”

These dire scenes have become a daily occurrence near the Texas border town of Eagle Pass, now the busiest sector for illegal crossings alongside the remote Tucson sector in Arizona, where smugglers have been cutting parts of the border wall to let migrants into the U.S.

Undeterred by the razor wire assembled by Texas state officials, stretches of federal border wall and Biden administration policies designed to reduce illegal entries, migrants have been crossing the U.S.-Mexico border in unprecedented numbers in recent days.

In just five days last week, Border Patrol processed nearly 50,000 migrants who entered the U.S. illegally, with daily apprehensions surpassing 10,000 thrice, up from the 6,400 average last month, according to federal data obtained by CBS News. Roughly 1,500 additional migrants are being processed each day at official border crossings under a Biden program powered by a phone app.

The record level of unauthorized crossings has strained federal and local resources in communities across the U.S. — from small towns like Eagle Pass, Jacumba Hot Springs, California, and Lukeville, Arizona — to large cities, such as Denver, Chicago and New York. It has also upended the politics of immigration, putting Democrats on the defensive ahead of the 2024 election.

A group of migrants wait in the middle of the Rio Grande near Eagle Pass, looking at a U.S. border fortified by coils of concertina wire and Texas National Guard troops. (Camilo Montoya-Galvez)

To convince Republicans to back more aid to Ukraine, the White House and Senate Democrats are currently entertaining drastic limits on asylum and an expansion of detention beds and deportations. While the negotiations in Congress are ongoing, lawmakers have signaled they want to reach a deal in the next few weeks.

In Border Patrol’s Del Rio sector, which includes Eagle Pass, the agency has processed as many as 4,000 migrants in 24 hours in recent days, a record high for the area, internal data show.

“Illegal border crossings have always happened,” said Eagle Pass fire chief Manuel Mello, who started as a local firefighter in the 1990s. “Groups of 10, 12 — that was a large group. But now you see 3,000 and 4,000 in one day. I never thought something like this could happen.”

“It’s been terrible for my baby”

Border Patrol agents in Eagle Pass set up a makeshift outdoor holding area this month to supervise migrants until they could be transported to processing facilities. In just days, thousands of migrant men, women and children slept in this staging area in between two international bridges, braving temperatures that fell below 50 degrees overnight.

In the early morning hours, mothers and fathers wrapped their children in Mylar blankets distributed by Border Patrol, while hundreds of adult men waited restlessly on the other side of orange construction fencing that separated them from families with minors. Other migrants lined up to use the porta-potties brought by Border Patrol.

Surge Of Migrants Overwhelms Border Crossings
In an aerial view, thousands of immigrants, most wearing thermal blankets, await processing at a U.S. Border Patrol transit center on December 19, 2023 in Eagle Pass, Texas. (John Moore / Getty Images)

Officials and volunteers distributed water and some food, including baby formula served in plastic bottles. But the migrants faced indefinite waits. As Border Patrol vans and buses transported some of the migrants away from the staging area, other vehicles brought new arrivals who had just crossed the Rio Grande.

With a Mylar blanket wrapped around her back, Andrea Diaz, a migrant from Colombia, said she and her family had slept in the outdoor triage area for two nights, and had no idea when they would be processed.

“It’s been terrible for my baby. I’m very worried. She has cried a lot,” Diaz said in Spanish, as she waited in line to get her 4-month-old daughter baby formula.

“The cold at dawn is very penetrating,” Jorge Villa, Diaz’s husband, interjected while holding the baby in his arms.

Diaz said her family left their hometown of Usme, near Colombia’s capital of Bogota, because her teenage son was threatened by guerilla fighters. The family said they had relatives in Chicago willing to help them settle there.

Asked if traveling to the U.S. was going to be worth it, given the experiences her family had endured so far, Diaz said, “God willing, given all this effort.

“We sold almost everything we had in Colombia to make this journey,” Diaz said.

Andy Court and Annabelle Hanflig contributed reporting.

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