ROME, Texas, USA (AP) – It’s dark and Border Patrol agents hear the sound of boats inflating on the other side of the Rio Grande in Mexico. They know they are going to have a job.
An hour later, the boats disembark about 100 people on six trips to the United States, including many families with babies and children as young as seven traveling alone. They all wear yellow plastic bands around their wrists, as if they were going to enter a concert or an amusement park, and they take them off and throw them on the ground after stepping on American soil. On the bands it says “deliveries”, apparently a mechanism that traffickers use to coordinate the crossings of the river that separates Mexico and the United States.
Rome, a city of 10,000 with bricked-up historic buildings and businesses in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, is a new epicenter of illegal border crossings, through which more and more families and minors enter the United States in search. of asylum.
US authorities say they detected more than 100,000 illegal crossings of the southern border in February, the highest number since a four-month period in 2019. The government had more than 16,000 minors in custody on Thursday, including some 5,000 housed in precarious facilities of the Customs and Border Protection Service.
President Joe Biden, whom many migrants consider more tolerant than his predecessor Donald Trump, denied Thursday that his policies are the reason for a surge in the number of migrants. In his first press conference since taking office, Biden said the government will take steps to ensure that migrant minors are transferred to other sites as quickly as possible.
On the Rio Grande (Big for Americans), a coyote resists when an American agent asks him to disembark people in a sandy area, saying that days ago another agent punctured his boat when he did. The agent gives him guarantees and finally the landings take place far from the tangled branches of the riverbank.
“There are children on board,” the coyote yells at the authorities.
As the boats approached the shore on Wednesday night, in sectors where they were already standing, the coyotes got into the water, lifted the minors in their arms and took the adults by the hand, who disembarked form ing a row. The migrants walked a few steps or were carried in their arms to the shore, and the coyotes returned to the other shore to make a new journey, without stepping on solid ground.
A seven-year-old girl named Kaylee cried because she had left her phone in the boat. A coyote told her that it had not been so and she seemed to forget about it. The little girl had her mother’s phone number in the United States written in black marker on her shirt.
US agents escort migrants almost a kilometer (half a mile) down dirt roads to the outskirts of Rome, where other agents, sitting at a folding table, examine their documents, take their names and destinations where they want to go, and answer questions. Minors traveling alone are separated from families and people place their belongings in plastic bags.
From there the migrants go to a nearby parking lot and get into buses and vans. Minors are not supposed to spend more than 72 hours in the custody of Customs and Border Protection, but they often spend more time because the Health and Human Services agency does not have enough space. That department began housing minors at the Dallas Convention Center and said it will open emergency facilities at military bases in San Antonio, El Paso, San Diego and elsewhere.
The Biden government expels almost all adults who travel alone, without giving them the opportunity to request asylum, under the protection of special powers in times of pandemic. But six out of ten people from migrant families caught by authorities in February were allowed to stay in the United States to seek asylum. Authorities say the expulsions of families run up against Mexico’s reluctance to accept them, especially those from the Rio Grande Valley, the corridor most used by migrants.
In 2019, migrants preferred a nearby corridor, but a wall built during the Trump administration made them run closer to Rome, where the canal is relatively narrow, albeit with strong currents.
A 17-year-old Salvadoran boy said he left home because he felt threatened by gangs and that he believed Biden would be more tolerant of migrants. When asked how he knew what Biden’s policies were, he replied “from what people say.”
Maynor Cruz, 29, said Biden’s policies had no bearing on his decision to leave San Pedro Sula, Honduras, about two months ago, but he heard that families with minor children could remain in the United States.
He added that he was happy to be in the United States after a dangerous journey through Mexico, during which someone tried to kidnap his daughter. He left Honduras with his wife and seven and two-year-old children because he lost his job in a condiment factory when the pandemic broke out and his home was destroyed by a tropical storm in November. He was able to raise funds for the trip through relatives living in the United States.
“It is difficult to start from scratch (in Honduras), with what you pay there,” he said.
In the river there was a break after the initial flow. Customs and Border Protection said 681 minors were left in their custody on Wednesday. That figure does not include Mexicans, who are generally returned immediately.