US-MEXICO BORDER — US Border Patrol agents must face danger on a daily basis in order to keep America safe.
Those who cross illegally aren't just people looking for a better life. They are often drug dealers, smugglers and gang members seeking easy money and willing do almost anything to get it.
Marijuana remains the drug of choice flowing from Mexico. But agents report an uptick in harder narcotics, like cocaine and methamphetamine.
Assaults on Border Agents Double
Despite the historic drop in arrests of undocumented immigrants, assaults on border patrol agents have nearly doubled.
"Because of the lack of infrastructure in this area, it sees more of the symptoms of a chaotic border," said US Border Patrol agent, Marcilino Medina. He adds, "We have more failures to yield, more stash houses, more alien traffic, and in this particular area more narcotic flow going into the United States."
This past year, 774 assaults took place, mainly in the Rio Grande Valley area.
Paola Vega knows that danger firsthand.
She is the widow of US Border Patrol agent Javier Vega, who was shot and killed by two illegals in the line of duty.
Widow: "Cherish Every Moment"
In an interview with CBN News, she said, "Cherish every moment you have with your family, be safe, and always watch your back."
She tells CBN News she remains strong for her three boys. But she adds, without her faith in Jesus, she never would have survived.
Vega said, "I believe that my family right now is as normal as possible given our situation, and without God it wouldn't have happened. There is no way we'd be such a strong family without Him."
That kind of faith is what keeps many agents going, as they go about their daily and often dangerous routine.
Most Illegal Immigrants Not From Mexico
Agents say the biggest misconception is that most illegal immigrants crossing the border are from Mexico.
The majority of illegal immigrants are from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala.
US Border Patrol agent Robert Rodriguez said, "We never know who we are going to encounter in the brush. You could encounter a sex offender, a murderer, someone who has an active warrant, you just never know until you take them back to the station, roll their finger prints and you get that information back."
In reality, US Border Patrol statistics for the last fiscal year show arrests of people from over 70 different nations.
Exploiting Loopholes in the System
Chief Manuel Padilla, Jr., who heads up the Rio Grande Valley sector, says his agents have even arrested known terrorists.
Agents say smugglers don't care who or what they bring in, as long as they get paid.
Smugglers sit on the drugs in safe houses until it's safe to transport them throughout the United States.
Chief Padilla says while the Trump administration has made a difference regarding border security, many illegals still exploit loopholes in the system.
He says criminal organizations often send gang members as unaccompanied children or with a fake family.
"Counterfeit documents, modified documents, that are being issued in certain countries to make a 'family,' if you will. They establish the parenthood of a child and once we start interviewing, we learn it's all false claims," said Chief Padilla.
Border Patrol says these children are turned over to ICE, who then turns them over to the US Health and Human Services.
Border security says sometimes they're released to family members already here in the United States.
Chief Padilla said, "The twist is they're given a court date, which some never attend."
The issue has the attention of President Trump, which he highlighted in the State of the Union, by introducing families who've been victims of MS-13 criminal activity.
Trump Vows to Close Loopholes
During his speech, President Trump said, "Tonight I'm calling on Congress to finally close the deadly loopholes that have allowed MS-13, and other criminals, to break into our country. We have proposed new legislation that will fix our immigration laws, and support our ICE and US Border Patrol agents so that this cannot ever happen again."
Despite the danger, Paola Vega's sons hope to follow in their father's footsteps and become agents.
As she continues to pray for her family, Vega also seeks justice for her husband's killers, who are still in court.
Vega said, "I still haven't been able to sleep comfortably and I don't think I will until justice is served."