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On Track for 1 Million Migrants in 2021: Southern US Border Overwhelmed as Crisis Escalates

04-16-2021
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Migrants Crossing the Rio Grande River into the US

UPDATE: Video updated to reflect a more accurate translation of a migrant's claim that valuables were taken from him on the journey. He believes they were taken by federal police in Mexico. Not the cartel as previously interpreted.

Feet firmly on US soil for the first time, a group of mostly Central American migrant mothers and children smile on the home stretch. 

Like the 6,000 others per day reported to be going around official entries at Texas' southernmost point, they believe the journey is a success. 

"I saw in the news there was a new President and there was more opportunity," said Mariano who just arrived from Honduras with the help of smugglers. 

Smugglers see more opportunity too. Through powerful rip currents, they race flimsy rafts and boats across the Rio Grande River hour after hour, day and night. Mexican authorities watch it happen from the water, as border agents manage dozens, even hundreds of migrants at a time while trying to keep cameras away. 

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"This is private property. The government does not own this property, but they are telling us we have to leave here right now," said Christie Hutcherson, founder of Women Fighting for America.  

During the commotion on shore, scouts working for the drug cartel give the all-clear for another raft to cross. The distance across is only about the length of a football field. 

A local boat owner, who asked we withhold her name, says since Biden's inauguration the number of rafts she sees crossing has skyrocketed. 

"If I had to give you an estimate, I would say 60 to 70 a day. Hundreds of people," she said.  

Most are from Central America and travel weeks to get here. Nearly all claim to be fleeing violence and poverty.

Along the way, many become victims of abuse and exploitation, often at the hands of the drug cartel members, they pay thousands of dollars to get them here.   

"Especially we have women and little girls coming in the thousands. We all know women and little girls have a 60 to 80% chance of getting raped, said Mayra Flores, a former Democrat now running for Congress on the Republican ticket.    

Not all who make the trip survive.    

"Sometimes you see dead bodies and stuff, they get snagged on the bottom or whatever reason they do not make it," said Raul Cruz who is the vice president of Black Hawk Security. 

But most do, including the unaccompanied children crammed into pods at an overflowing detention facility in Donna, Texas.  

"Every facility we have along the Southwest border is over capacity right now. Just yesterday we had over 10,000 people in border patrol custody. That is much higher, especially under covid constraints that any facility should have," said US Border Patrol Deputy Chief Raul Ortiz. 

Makeshift facilities are also popping up. They're intended to go undetected by the media and other observers. From there, migrants are sent to area shelters and in a matter of hours are free to go.     

"They are released so they can continue their legal proceedings here in the United States somewhere where they're going," said Norma Pimental who runs Catholic Charities Respite Center in McAllen.  

Only now, border patrol confirms record numbers are being released into the US without court dates, as the system grows more overwhelmed by the day. 

In March alone, an estimated 171,000 entered the country illegally. That is five times more than a year ago.  By year's end, more than one million are expected. 

"As soon as they get to this side, they flag down border patrol because they want to get caught. They are not going to get deported back to their country," said Cruz. 

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