Along the Rio Grande, “illegal immigration” is not just a clash of protests and slogans, but a sweaty battle of wits between smugglers who take money to bring poor families across the border and federal agents who try to stop them.
The reality of that battle was captured Monday when ABC News correspondent Tom Llamas and a crew rode for a day with Border Patrol Agent Robert Rodriguez near McAllen, Texas, ABC reported.
In a speech earlier this month to the National Federal of Independent Businesses, President Donald Trump sought to call attention to the smugglers who are driving the increase in illegal immigration.
“These smugglers know these rules and regulations better than the people that drew them. As a result, there’s been a 325 percent increase in minors, and a 435 percent increase in the smuggling or attempted smuggling of families and minors into our country. We’re stopping them all the time by the thousands. But they still get through. We have no wall. We have no border security. Without a border, you don’t have a country. You don’t have a country,” Trump said, according to a White House transcript of his remarks.
Figures for May revealed that for the third month in a row, the Border Patrol arrested more than 50,000 people trying to enter the country illegally, according to The Washington Post.
What ABC and its crew saw were not facts and figures, but a hot, tired collection of illegal immigrants who were dumped on the north shore of the Rio Grande by a smuggler who ran as soon as Rodriguez spotted the group.
Rodriguez chased the smuggler, who got into a small inflatable boat and rowed frantically south.
"Look, there's a smuggler."@TomLlamasABC was embedded with a Customs and Border Protection agent when they discovered an alleged smuggler along the Mexico border in an inflatable raft on the Rio Grande. https://t.co/7PQ61gbnRP pic.twitter.com/rfG2HJFPiN
— ABC News (@ABC) June 25, 2018
“I can’t go into the river to apprehend him,” Rodriguez said. “I assure you he was a smuggler. No shirt on and ready to jump back into the river.”
Although the group of illegal immigrants that drew Rodriguez’s attention dispersed while he was chasing the smuggler, he later caught up with them as they walked along a dirt road and took the group into custody.
The women in the party explained that they fled Honduras because of poverty and the violence of the Honduran gangs. The party included a 30-year-old woman with a 12-year-old daughter and a 19-year-old woman with her 1-year-old son.
“Every single day, agents encounter those types of situations,” Rodriguez said. “My goal is to make sure that once they’re in our custody and everything is okay, that they have water, is to assure them that they’re going to go somewhere safe, that they’re going to be fed, that they’re going to be taken care of properly.”
Rodriguez said he told the women not to try coming back with the help of smugglers.
“Just because these family units and unaccompanied children have already made it to the U.S. side doesn’t mean that the danger is over,” he said.
Kevin McAleenan, commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, said the reality of what Rodriguez and other agents experience has been overlooked in the political condemnation of the president.
“I think there’s a misplaced focus, that it’s not just about what’s happening at the border. It’s about what’s happening to these families that led them to make the decision in Central America to try” to get to the United States, McAleenan said. “They’re in the hands of Mexican cartels, dangerous organizations, and then the dangers of the crossings. That piece has lost focus in the current dialogue.”
McAleenan said that since last Wednesday’s executive order ending the policy of family separation that Trump inherited, about 540 illegal immigrant children separated from their parents by authorities had been reunited.
“It’s really tough seeing families and children, and what they go through to get here,” he said. “They’re putting themselves in the hands of the most violent criminal organizations in the Western Hemisphere. They’ve often suffered terribly. We’re trying to make sure they’re medically okay when they arrive.”
McAleenan said agents have a difficult balancing act.
“They’re here to do a job, to protect the border, to enforce the law,” he said. “They’ve had that responsibility for humanitarian care at the same time.”
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