MCALLEN, Texas – In the pre-dawn darkness, Border Patrol Agent Jesse Moreno slowed his SUV and raked the beam of his flashlight across a stretch of flooded scrub, searching for any signs of life: flattened grass, a slight rustle, a sneaker.
Voices crackled in hushed whispers over his radio, as more agents searched from the other side of the brush. Signaled by another agent over the radio, Moreno jumped from his white-and-green Border Patrol SUV and into the swampy marsh. He arrived just in time to see the agent cuffing a migrant. Two more crouched nearby in the murky, knee-high water, wet, filthy and swarmed by clouds of mosquitos.
One sprinted away but was quickly tackled and handcuffed by an agent. The other lay prone in the muck.
“íNo te muevas!” Moreno ordered. Don’t move.
The migrant froze.
The men – two from Mexico, one from Honduras – were just three of the more than 2,100 migrants that agents with the Border Patrol’s Rio Grande Valley Sector are encountering on average each day.
Across the southwest border, agents have encountered more than 1.2 million migrants this year and are on pace to surpass totals reached in 2000, when agents apprehended 1.7 million migrants, according to statistics released last week by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the agency that oversees Border Patrol. In the Rio Grande Valley Sector alone, agents have encountered more than 359,000 migrants — far more than any other sector along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Latin American economies gutted by COVID-19 and the hope that Biden will treat migrants more favorably than his predecessor are spurring the ever-increasing numbers of migrants at the border. In the Rio Grande Valley, that’s leading to more smuggling attempts, foot-crossings, stash houses and increases in nearly every category tracked by Border Patrol, Moreno said.