DEL RIO, TX — We went to Del Rio and found the border between the U.S. and Mexico is wide open. It’s not that the wall is not yet complete there. It is instead the U.S. immigration laws and how those laws are being circumvented with loopholes are denying the U.S. enforcement agencies and federal courts the means to gain operational control of the U.S.-Mexico border, we found.
In Del Rio, an ad hoc volunteer relief group formed by a partnership with over 20 local churches is tending to illegal immigrant families the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is dropping off at the large Stripes Convenience Store on Veteran’s Blvd. These are usually illegal immigrant families with children who have made a claim of political asylum. They are processed through a Border Patrol facility, given an administrative court date sometimes 24 months into the future, and released to travel to their final destination, usually to join family already deep in the interior of the U.S.
“An illegal immigrant apprehended in the U.S. here knows more about our immigration laws than any American does,” said Federal Judge Alia Moses. She has served on the federal bench for the United States District Court for the Western District of Texas since 2002.
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) detail how to apply for asylum. But there are a myriad of activist groups online who provide the blueprint for what to say and what documentation to bring before getting apprehended on the border by U.S. Border Patrol agents.
Judge Moses said she didn’t believe the current immigration laws are effective in curbing the problems she is seeing in her courtroom. She said she might have as many as 4000 cases on her docket this year. In FY 2018, there were about 3000 cases.
Moses’ court handles criminal cases that happen after an illegal immigrant is caught entering the U.S. a second time, or is involved with illegal drugs, kidnapping, or trafficking.
Administrative judges who work for the executive, not judicial branch, of the federal government handle the asylum cases.
The outcome is many of those apprehended will remain in the U.S. waiting a hearing date. After Border Patrol processes the asylum claims and asks where the illegal immigrant is headed, they are dropped off at a local transportation center, usually a bus station, for a ride to San Antonio, and then to destinations anywhere in the U.S.
“We’ve seen a 100 percent increase in the number of apprehensions made this year compared to the same time last year,” explained CBP Del Rio Sector Chief Raul Ortiz. He assumed command of the CBP’s Del Rio Sector last month. Prior, he was in the Rio Grande Valley Sector and he called that the “tip of the spear” of the illegal immigration flows for the past six years.
That is changing.
This year, the El Paso Sector, the CBP jurisdiction to the west of the Del Rio Sector, saw a 400-500 percent increase in illegal immigrant apprehensions. Meanwhile the Del Rio Sector is up 116 percent.
In addition to claiming asylum, illegal immigrants crossing the border with children is hamstringing CBP’s efforts. “Policy loopholes,” Ortiz explained are being taken advantage of by organized smuggling organizations.
“They cross the river being smuggled by a river guide and they turn themselves in to a Border Patrol agent,” he said. They aren’t hiding or running away. This is because they have been taught our immigration laws and know how to get caught and then released into the U.S. with a court date. About 80 percent of those released will never be heard from again, we were told by officials.
“Some of our intel sources have gathered [says] that there’s family reunification happening. In other words, somebody who is travelling from Honduras is trying to get to Virginia or Maryland because part of their family is already there,” Ortiz said.
In the Del Rio Sector in April, Ortiz estimated about 200 illegal immigrants were being released into the U.S. per day. Most of them are released in Eagle Pass, about 55 miles southeast of Del Rio on the Rio Grande. Eagle Pass has a better transportation infrastructure— bus lines for example— for illegal immigrants to travel inland into the U.S.
Ortiz believes most of the illegal immigrants are not fleeing political persecution by their own governments, but are instead classified as economic illegal immigrants. They are looking for a better life in the U.S.
While the CBP is required to release family units, or adults, usually men, traveling with children, the CBP’s ability to detain other illegal immigrants, the solo men or women, is stretched beyond its limits.
“We don’t have enough detention space to hold the amount of people we have in custody currently, and right now, the Border Patrol is holding over 10,000 people across the southwest border in custody,” he said.
Congressman Mike Conaway said the fix could only be made with congressional action.
“Obviously the Republicans have filed bills that address the loopholes in the asylum laws that we’ve got. We have the Flores [court decision] that says we can only hold family units a certain number of days if they are seeking asylum. Economic depravation is not asylum. Running from neighborhood thugs is not asylum. It is [instead] being afraid of your own government. So there’s some rules there. But we have loopholes in there that are being exploited by the bad guys. The folks who are coming up are being taught the magic three or four words they need to say that get them into that system [asylum procedures] as opposed to being deported and sent back home,” he said.
“Congress has to fix that. The president can’t executive order that into being fixed, that has to be congress’ fix and I don’t see a lot of movement by our Democrat colleagues who are in charge of the House making that happen” Conaway said.
Meanwhile, back in Del Rio, Ortiz was asked if he has control of the border?
“Definitely not,” he said.
Manny Diaz contributed to this report.