Rio Grande Valley Becomes Epicenter of Growing Humanitarian Crisis

by Published on
Migrantchildren
Eugenio del Bosque
Unaccompanied Children in Reynosa, Mexico

The U.S. Border Patrol recently released some stunning apprehension figures for the Rio Grande Valley. While the rest of the U.S.-Mexico border is still experiencing some of the lowest apprehension rates in forty years, the number of border crossers caught in the Valley has tripled since 2010.

The nexus of migration has shifted from Tucson, Arizona to South Texas. Since 1998, Tucson, Arizona, has registered the highest number of yearly apprehensions. But in 2013, the Border Patrol’s Rio Grande Valley sector reported 154,453 migrant apprehensions compared to 120,939 for Tucson.

For anyone working with the immigrant community in the Rio Grande Valley, the new figures come as no surprise. There has been a huge influx of women, children and men from Central America fleeing skyrocketing violence and seeking refuge in the United States. South Texas has long been a favored route for Central Americans but the numbers of migrants in the past two years is the highest since Central America’s civil wars more than three decades ago.

Most troubling are the thousands of unaccompanied children—the majority between 7 and 18—fleeing deteriorating security conditions in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. In April 2012, South Texas shelters for unaccompanied children reached overflow capacity. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the Office of Refugee Resettlement, scrambled to find emergency shelters for the children. The agency even called on Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio to provide shelter to more than 100 Central American kids.

The number of children pouring across the border hasn’t abated since then. And the Office of Refugee and Resettlement has had to secure more shelters across Texas to house the children.

“In Central America, organized crime and gang activity are leading to some of the highest murder rates in the world,” says Adam Isaacson, a senior associate for regional security at the non-profit Washington Office on Latin America. “What surprises me about these apprehension numbers is how fast it has grown in the past two years. The number of people has tripled.”

Because of the violence in Central America, parents already in the United States without documents are paying smugglers to bring their children across the border. Other children threatened by growing gang violence are fleeing to the United States even if they have no relatives here. It’s a humanitarian disaster, says Isaacson. Migrants are targeted for forced labor, extortion and recruitment by the cartels. “On the route to the United States, just about everyone is either robbed, kidnapped or raped,” he says.

Once they cross the border into the United States, migrants hiking through the desert or rugged ranch lands can die from heat exposure or hypothermia. The Border Patrol reported 156 deaths in the Rio Grande Valley in 2013, second only to Tucson where 194 people died.

In June 2012, Lavinia Limon, president and CEO of the U.S. Committee on Refugees and Immigrants, published an open letter to Congress asking that they address the unfolding humanitarian crisis through immigration reform. As Limon wrote in a letter published in The Texas Observer:

“The central fact of our existing immigration policies is that they keep families separated. The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, passed by Congress in 1996 created the current problem. All at once it erected a major barrier for parents here illegally from ever seeing their young children again.”

One other trend that stands out for me from the latest Border Patrol report is the historically low level of apprehensions for Mexicans continues. In 2012, the Pew Research Center attributed this trend to a number of reasons including heightened border enforcement, a rise in deportations, the growing dangers of crossing the border as well as a decline in birth rates.

But the growing security crisis in Mexico is also having an impact on immigration numbers. What the Border Patrol doesn’t track is the number of political asylum requests. As noted in a recent New York Times article, political asylum requests from Mexico more than doubled from 13,800 in 2012 to 36,000 requests in 2013. Many Mexicans seeking asylum have moved to U.S. border states like Texas. And no doubt, with things deteriorating in Michoacan and other states we might see even more asylum requests in 2014.

The takeaway is that the humanitarian crisis is growing and much of it is now playing out in Texas, especially in the Rio Grande Valley.

Melissa del Bosque joined The Texas Observer staff in 2008. She specializes in reporting on immigration and the U.S.-Mexico border. Her work has been published in national and international publications including TIME magazine and the Mexico City-based Nexos magazine. She has a master’s in public health from Texas A&M University and a master’s in journalism from the University of Texas at Austin.

  • Scott Nicol

    The number of apprehensions in the RGV has tripled since 2010. Most of the Valley’s border walls were built in 2009 and 2010. I assume that Cornyn and Cruz will hold a press conference to announce the abject failure of border walls, and to pledge that no more money will be wasted on new ones.

    • John Spurlock

      Read Michelle Malkin’s book, “INVASION”, and get a grip. Illegals take money out of my pocket because they live three families to an apartment and steal MY jobs because they work cheaper. No insurance for car OR business, also forget about warranties for work performed. The National Guard should have been on the US southern border for the last 60 years. ALL politicians are guilty, not just the newer conservatives.

      • DavidD

        Fearmonger much,lets just turn these little criminals back in the desert to die of thrist.
        A humane solution needs to be found for this problem.I’m not for open borders and the most effective solution would be strict employer sanctions and effective aid to the authorities if that is possible down in Central America.

        • Sportgear

          The humane solution is to stop telling them they can come and become a citizen eventually. The Democrat dog whistle is killing these folks, all for a base of voters in the future. Obama and the Dems are killing illegals.

      • cynthia curran

        Forget the right wing they are almost just as bad as the left. They are not really that much against either small or large business from hiring them since they don’t support higher wages or penalties for companies that hire them.

    • cynthia curran

      Cruz is a jerk, he wants high legal immigration to take tech jobs form Americans and he is actually soft on punishing companies for hiring illegal immigrants anyway.

  • Jenner

    the wall isn’t a continuous solid piece throughout the state and in the RGV. there are sections where there is no wall. if anything all it has done is created a bottle neck effect in areas that may experience more foot traffic that have no wall as a result.

  • Gail Arvizo

    Im so tired of hearing how they are separated from their kids,well then stay home with your kids,and how is it these kids are crossing on their own at such young ages? If they are coming on their own then send them back to their country or put them in the system here as orphans then see if their parents like them lost in our system! we have enough kids here with out families that we have to support! Mexico and other southern nations need to clean up their countries and stop expecting our nation to take care of their people,we have enough trying to take care of our own,we don’t even help out our vets but can pay to take care of people who are here illegaly! Im tired of these sob stories!

    • Susan

      I agree. What about all of the US citizens who broke the law? They are separated from their families, by being in jail? What is the difference? Are they going to start saying, no we can’t send people to jail, because it separates them from their family?

  • Sportgear

    Melissa del Bosque is living with her head in the desert sand. The reason people are dying is the lack of enforcement of our laws. These folks are also dying due to Democrats dangling the carrot for them to come to this country and become a citizen. If our laws were enforced and our borders were sealed we would eliminate many deaths in the desert. For now its the whistle of the Dems who are killing these folks.