Border Patrol’s Del Rio sector chief speaks with KSAT about slowing migrant crossings, relationship with Texas DPS

Robert Danley became the Chief Patrol Agent of Del Rio sector in December 2023

The Del Rio sector is busy, covering 55,063 square miles of Texas and 245 miles of the United States’ southern border with Mexico.

Chief Patrol Agent Robert Danley’s job is to make sure his agents watch that stretch to prevent smuggling and illegal crossings into the U.S.

Danley, who has been with Border Patrol for more than 20 years, took over the Del Rio sector in December 2023, amid a major surge in illegal crossings.

One of the most active stations in his sectors is Eagle Pass, which has gained national attention for immigration issues.

Danley started his job earlier than he expected after thousands of migrants crossed over and waited in fields for days.

In January, city-owned Shelby Park was taken over by the Texas Department of Public Safety as part of Governor Greg Abbott’s Operation Lone Star.

In a wide-ranging exclusive interview with KSAT, Chief Patrol Agent Robert Danley shares insight into his nearly seven months on the job, including how and why migrant crossings have changed, how laws impact the work done by agents, and Border Patrol’s relationship with Texas DPS.

‘I think it’s an impediment’

On the Rio Grande in Eagle Pass, the sight between the U.S. and Mexico — especially near Shelby Park — is distinct.

In Piedras Negras, Mexico, people are out on the river fishing and picnicking and looking at vibrant murals.

On the Eagle Pass side, there are stacks of cargo boxes, fences, and silver coils of razor and concertina wire placed by the state.

Border Patrol agents told KSAT the closest they can get to that is from the river.

In January, Texas took “full control” of Shelby Park.

“We’re approaching six months since that takeover happened. How has that impacted what Border Patrol does?” asked reporter Daniela Ibarra.

“I don’t know that it, it it’s probably some nuisance hindrance to — it makes it a little more difficult to patrol that area,” answered Chief Patrol Agent Robert Danley with Border Patrol.

He oversees a 245-mile stretch of the border, which includes Shelby Park.

Besides access to a boat ramp, Danley said his agents can’t get in.

“Well, I think it’s an impediment,” he said. “We’ve had to make some adjustments to the way that we operate, to try to to try to keep our, our, you know, surety of, of being able to take action when necessary.”

The Justice Department stepped in, asking the Supreme Court to order Texas to stop blocking Border Patrol agents from the park.

Gov. Greg Abbott said Texas has the authority to control access to any geographic location in the state.

‘We’re always on the lookout’

In December 2023, a field of green grass became a sea of silver thermal blankets.

Thousands of migrants who crossed into the U.S. waited to be processed by Border Patrol agents.

The surge overwhelmed the agency, which had to redirect resources to process the group.

“The Border Patrol has the first three days of detainees detention and to deal with the rest of the immigration continuum happens after us,” Danley said.

At the time, Danley had just been named to his post in the Del Rio sector.

“I got a phone call about 9:00 on a Monday night, and they, my boss, told me I needed to be here in the morning the next day,” Danley said.

He said the agents on boat patrol played a big role in handling the surge.

“When we had the large number of folks crossing, it was constant rescues,” he said. “Two, three a day some days.”

KSAT asked Danley what migrant crossing numbers look like now in his sector.

“So recently, we’ve been keeping the numbers down below 320 a day, on average, on a seven-day average,” he said.

“Why do you think that is?” asked Ibarra.

“Because we’ve instituted a program of implementing consequences for folks that are crossing the border illegally,” responded Danley. “My goal here is to make it as difficult as possible for the cartels and people that want to cross illegally in our area. I want to make it as difficult for them to do and to be successful. I want every one of them apprehended. So I’ll take whatever resources I can to get that number to zero.”

Despite the politics, Danley said agents are bound by law, which includes enforcing President Joe Biden’s executive order limiting the number of asylum seekers.

“I think that it complements what we started to do in late December,” he said. “It’s given us a few more tools to apply consequences. So I think it’s a good thing I think it’s still a little too soon to tell what the overall impact it’s going to have.”

“Do you expect to see a surge anytime soon?” asked Ibarra.

“We’re always on the lookout,” Danley said. “And in what we’ve seen over my career is that, when we have a policy change, the adversary, the cartels, are going to make adjustments.”

Danley said his sector partners with other sectors at Immigration and Customs Enforcement, adding that more eyes on the border is helpful.

KSAT crew shares experience on exclusive ride along on Rio Grande

In addition to the sit-down interview with Chief Danley, KSAT reporter Daniela Ibarra and photojournalist Adam Barraza were invited to ride along with Border Patrol’s boat patrol.

The roughly 45-minute long ride covered around 12 miles of the border.

“It was an experience that not everybody gets to see,” said Barraza. “It’s not just a straight river. It’s curves in and waves, and there’s bushes and there’s everything and there’s, you know, plant life.”

Agents on the boat showed KSAT spots where migrants crossed and described the water levels, which ranged from ankle-deep to feet deep.

KSAT got a different perspective of Shelby Park. Their boat sat between the coils of razor wire, fencing, and cargo boxes sitting in the park and the vibrant murals in Piedras Negras.

Agents also warned our crew about an alligator in the river, which they said has lived there for years. Our crew did not get to see it themselves.

About the Authors

Daniela Ibarra joined the KSAT News team in July 2023. This isn’t her first time in the KSAT newsroom– the San Antonio native spent the summer of 2017 as an intern. Daniela is a proud Mean Green alum, earning her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of North Texas.

Adam Barraza is a photojournalist at KSAT 12 and an El Paso native. He interned at KVIA, the local ABC affiliate, while still in high school. He then moved to San Antonio and, after earning a degree from San Antonio College and the University of the Incarnate Word, started working in news. He’s also a diehard Dodgers fan and an avid sneakerhead.

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