These are the banks of the Rio Grande
in Eagle Pass, Texas. On the other side is Mexico.
And a group of people from Central America
has just waded into the water to cross into the United States.
Some are carrying small children.
The river bed is uneven and the currents
Taking one wrong step could mean getting swept away.
Then, U.S. Border Patrol intervenes.
Scenes like this have recently become all too common,
here in the Del Rio border sector.
The number of migrants and asylum-seekers
making these risky river crossings
with children in tow has skyrocketed since last year.
They’re bypassing official ports of entry.
This one, just a few hundred meters away,
is backlogged, as are so many along the border.
But most of these families are not
trying to sneak past Border Patrol.
Instead, they’re seeking out agents
and surrendering themselves.
“I’ve been in this sector for a long time,
and we have not seen this before and it’s bad.
And it’s getting worse.”
Bryan Kemmett has been with Border Patrol
for over two decades.
“This area, right here, is ground zero.
This is where all the traffic comes from.
We can see the floatation devices
that they’re using.
You know, we’ve seen as many as nine people trying
to get into these little inflatable pools.”
Kemmett says agents historically
have seen single adults crossing the river here.
Now, it’s mostly families with younger and younger children.
He says Border Patrol resources are stretched thin.
“There’s a lot of care that has to be taken with families —
the feeding and changing the diapers
and making sure that everybody that
has to go to the hospital is taken to the hospital.”
Tending to families
has become a part of the agent’s daily routine.
“We have a job to do. We enforce the laws that Congress pass.
But we are also making sure that while we’re
enforcing the laws, the migrants are safe,
and if they become distressed, we quickly go to rescue mode.”
But they can’t always get to everyone.
Just a month ago, a raft crossing the river at night
overturned: A 10-month-old and a 7-year-old drowned.
Locals have captured images
of people struggling for their lives —
and bodies washing up on the river shore.
Border Patrol has counted seven drownings
But they say there could be more
that are unaccounted for.
“They got a kid with them.”
“They have a kid with them?”
“In the middle.”
“Probably like, 8?”
“You think we should pick them up?”
Carlos Reinaldo Farias is a vessel commander
in the Del Rio sector.
“I'm gonna get down river of them, O.K.?”
If he sees migrants in distress or with children
in the water,
his task is to rescue them.
“I'm gonna go in neutral, all right?”
Since October, there have already
been over 300 people rescued here, up from only 31
the year before.
That’s an increase of 900 percent.
“We're not chasing after people as much.
We’re helping people not succumb to the river.
And I think of my children.
And it kind of hurts a little bit.
And I’m not gonna lie, it kind of
gets me a little riled up because I understand
they want to come over,
but there’s right pathways to it.
And I don’t think anybody should be endangering
their child’s life like that.”
But Angel Gabriel said he and his family
had no other choice.
He said they fled Honduras
after being targeted by local police because of a complaint
he had filed against them.
Like others we spoke to,
they’ve come to claim asylum in the U.S.
But the current administration has restricted the number
of asylum-seekers who can come through official ports
of entry, and be processed daily.
In some places,
it can take months to get through
and some people say they can’t wait that long.
Angel said he and his family had been in Mexico since January
before deciding to make the treacherous trek
across the river.
After several days at a Border Patrol holding facility,
most families apprehended in the Del Rio sector
are released, here, at a new volunteer-run shelter.
Allan Ramon, and other locals here,
addressed the families basic needs
and help with the next leg of their journey:
joining relatives or friends in other parts of the U.S.
while they await a hearing.
These are just a handful of the hundreds of families
who arrive at the southern border each day,
and they are likely to keep coming,
despite the administration’s efforts to deter migration,
as long as they feel it’s riskier to stay at home
than to cross the river.