MCALLEN, Texas (KWTX) As the sun comes up over the Rio Grande Valley, agents scan for trouble.
(Photo by Clint Webb)
Across the river, a Mexican smuggler is spotted in a tree.
"They just want to make sure the area is clear before they send over their illegal aliens or their narcotics," said Border Patrol Agent Robert Rodriguez.
A raft emerges.
The five men inside make a break for the U.S. side of the river.
Border patrol agents move in.
The migrants make landfall and scatter quickly into the brush but they are unable to hide for long.
This is the second time Oscar paid thousands of dollars to be smuggled into the U.S. from El Salvador for the second time in five years.
"I've been deported before when there was a car accident. They automatically deported us. Because I'm scared, I ran and hopefully God will help," said Oscar.
In the Rio Grande Valley, migrant feet hit U.S. soil for the first time every day.
So many people come here illegally, you can see hundreds of footprints on the riverbank.
Boats, blimps, sensors and lookouts are spread out in Rio Grande valley help give the sectors approximately 3,100 agents a heads up when something illegal is about to go down.
Rodriguez says about half the people they apprehend have a criminal past.
"We've seen an increase in MS-13 gang member apprehensions, 18 Street Gang, repeat sex offenders, we have individuals wanted for murder."
The United States government has spent billions of taxpayer dollars hardening the border.
It may be tougher than ever to sneak across, but the numbers are rising in the Rio Grande Valley.
In November alone, nearly 21,000 migrants were apprehended here.
That's about double from a year ago.
No Central American caravans have shown up in the Rio Grande Valley as they have in other parts of the country.
But agents catch hundreds of migrants here daily.
They say it adds up to about the equivalent of a caravan a week.
"The Rio Grande Valley sector is still lacking in the personnel, the technology and the infrastructure," said Rodriguez.
In fact, many sections of border fence remain wide open.
But not everyone wants to outrun the law.
Many migrants who cross the border illegally immediately look for a Border Patrol agent.
"They are under the impression that as soon as they find us, they are home free," said Border Patrol Agent Hermann Rivera.
Increasingly, those crossing the southwestern border illegally are Central Americans seeking asylum.
Oscar who is from Honduras, spent 20 days traveling through four countries to get to the U.S. He paid a smuggler $8,000 to sneak him and his 10-year-old daughter over the border.
"He goes to a processing center where all their bio data is inputted and he will be processed according to that," said Rivera.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement will decide if they stay in the U.S. or have to leave.
"I am not scared," said 15-year-old Wendy who was smuggled to the U.S. with family members Guatemala.
Minus a criminal record, most migrants believe the law is on their side even though they broke the law to get here.
Rodriguez says they are told that by smugglers, family members or friends, anybody they know who has already made it through the process."
The 24/7 cycle of activity is taxing manpower at the border agents say. In a recent 12 month period nearly 400,000 migrants along the southwest border were apprehended according to Department of Homeland Security numbers.
But according DHS, ICE sent just 1.4 percent of migrant families from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador back to their home countries.
"What the Rio Grande Valley sector is experiencing is absolutely unsustainable. It's very simple. If there is a consequence, it will stop bad behavior. When there's no consequence, that's when we start seeing these kinds of issues," said Rodriguez.
More than 750,000 cases are now before U.S. immigration courts and the number is expected to keep rising.