The number of illegal immigrant apprehensions in South Texas has increased by 50 percent, according to Henry Mendiola Jr., spokesman for the Rio Grande Valley sector of U.S. Border Patrol.
Mendiola said preliminary figures through last August show approximately 89,000 people were detained, compared to 59,243 in 2011.
The higher numbers also are reflected in the 150 percent increase in immigrant deaths -- from dehydration or heat stroke in remote areas or drownings in the Rio Grande, Mendiola said.
In Brooks County alone, about 85 miles from the border, Sheriff Rey Rodriguez said it has been a "terrible year," with 112 bodies recovered -- the highest yet. He said last year, the remains of 64 people were recovered.
Rodriguez said many immigrants are aware of the risks through Spanish-language media campaigns.
“'You can’t come through. You’re not going to make it.' They still come,” Rodriguez said.
Mendiola said most are trying to escape economic turmoil and violence in their home countries.
“They liquidate all their property, take all that cash, invest it in a trip north and end up losing everything, including their lives,” Mendiola said.
He said smugglers charge $1,500 to $5,000, depending on their nationality.
However, Mendiola said the stakes are much more dangerous now the drug cartels are controlling human smuggling routes.
Mendiola said the majority of immigrants are from Mexico, but up to 40 percent are from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala.
However, Mendiola said the increase in apprehensions is “manageable,” unlike 10 or 15 years ago.
“We had 200,000 people coming across and only half the agents we have now,” Mendiola said.
He said the Rio Grande Valley sector now has 2,500 Border Patrol agents, more technology and increased cooperation between federal, state and local law enforcement agencies.
Thanks to neighbors reporting suspicious activity, Mendiola said more illegal immigrants have been rescued from filthy, overcrowded stash houses, where they are kept temporarily.
He said, “This is a very lucrative business, a money-making business. These are not humans to them.”