McALLEN, Texas – The seemingly endless flow of undocumented immigrants, many of them Central American families, continues to slow dramatically along the southwest border.
The latest April figures for U.S. Border Patrol apprehensions plummeted by 67 percent compared to last year. But the deepest dive — 76 percent — was last October in contrast to the record 2014 surge of women and children from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala arriving in the Rio Grande Valley.
As a result of the declining numbers, a group of exhausted and thoroughly soaked men and women surrounded by U.S. Border Patrol agents is a scene that’s not as common as it once was.
The group had initially gotten into a waiting pickup truck after crossing the Rio Grande, when the driver quickly encountered Border Patrol.
John Horner, the supervisory Border Patrol agent, said the truck headed back to the river, where the group bailed out and jumped into Rio Grande. Two of them nearly drowned in the swift current when they tried swimming back.
“We threw them some ropes, and we were able to pull them out of the river safely,” Horner said.
But apprehensions along a road that used to be clogged with Central American families are now few and far between.
“You’ll see one or two in an hour, if that,” said Isaac Villegas, Border Patrol spokesman for the Rio Grande Valley sector. “Back then, you would see maybe 40 to 50, maybe a hundred an hour.”
“When you combine law, policy and strategy, that’s what we notice has made the difference,” Villegas said.
However, Sister Norma Pimentel, executive director of Catholic Charities in the Rio Grande Valley, said it’s possible to some extent that President Trump’s election made a difference as well.
“There may be some fear, definitely,” Pimentel said.
The Humanitarian Respite Center that Pimentel operates in McAllen struggled to keep up with the Central American families seeking help starting in 2014. But the day she spoke to KSAT 12 News, there were only two families there.
“That’s very low,” Pimentel said. “So the question is, where are they? Because the violence is still there. Are they in greater danger now?”
Violence is what propelled a father and his teenage son from El Salvador who were at the respite center that day. They said their journey was a matter of life or death.
“Both for me and my son,” the father said.
The father said violent gangs in El Salvador threaten young people to join them or else they and their families will be killed. He said instead, they chose to endure any anti-immigrant policies and rhetoric in the United States.
Pimentel said more and more families will reach that point and continue to flee north.
What a choice for any parent — “to have to decide what’s worse,” Pimentel said.
Don't miss a thing. Get email alerts from KSAT 12 today.
Get alerted to news events as they happen or sign up for a scheduled news headline email that is delivered right to your inbox. Breaking news, severe weather, daily forecasts, entertainment news, all of the day’s important events to keep you up to date wherever you are.
Sign up today. It's Free.