MCALLEN, Texas — A Texas dirt road located a few hundred feet from the Rio Grande international boundary that for months has been one of the busiest illegal crossing spots on the entire 1,954-mile southwest border was silent this hot, lazy August afternoon.
“I see one footprint,” says Chris Cabrera, an 18-year veteran Border Patrol agent who speaks on behalf of rank-and-file personnel as vice president of the National Border Patrol Council.
In the spring and early summer, dozens of new footprints were molded into the uneven, beige dirt every hour. Cabrera had hoped to see some apprehensions here today since this part of Rincon Village (a heavily overgrown area by the river that once was home to a handful of houses) is where migrants normally appear.
The back roads he is driving down are about a mile south of Hidalgo County’s Anzalduas Park. The roads are more like wide, unpaved trails, barely sufficient for one Border Patrol pickup truck to pass another agent’s vehicle. They do not have names and won’t come up in a search of Google Maps, but they sit just below the mile-long Anzalduas International Bridge, a legal entry point at which other asylum seekers will wait days or weeks to apply at instead of crossing through the river.
More than 300,000 people have been arrested this fiscal year (since Oct. 1) in the Rio Grande Valley Sector, one of nine regions the Border Patrol has divided the Mexico border into. For context, all eight other sectors have apprehended between 8,000 and 165,000 combined over the same period.
Rod Kise, the regional spokesman for Border Patrol’s parent agency, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, explained that up to 70% of those arrests were made by agents stationed out of McAllen and the remainder was by agents based out of the Southeast Texas region’s eight other stations.
Agents in the RGV sector are responsible for 118 miles of the border, which anyone will be quick to remind you is technically 277 miles because of how the river sharply curls around. Here in Rincon Village, Mexico is actually to the north because of those curves.
Migrants will climb out of the river and walk a half-mile down the main dirt road to a clearing where Border Patrol agents sit inside running government vehicles. A contracted coach bus and a Border Patrol van also sit nearby, just up a concrete embankment where the closest accessible road is located. They will drive larger groups of people to the McAllen Station for processing. The contracted buses were brought in here and in other border regions earlier this year because agents could not accommodate in their pickups and SUVs the dozens who had been arriving every hour.
Today, not a single person can be found in a 90-minute search of the area. It’s quiet except for the sound of the occasional bird chirp.
The TV weatherman forecast the heat index for 111 degrees, Cabrera says, sitting inside his air-conditioned personal vehicle. He says the extreme heat is one of the two reasons he believes no one is crossing right now at 3:30 p.m. local time.
“This time of year, if [families and children] don’t cross in the dark, they’re gonna cross either really early in the morning or late in the afternoon when the sun starts to go down,” Cabrera says. “But the weather in and of itself is not going to stop it.”
Cabrera explains the Mexican government’s deployment of military to the other side of the border from the Rio Grande Valley is why apprehensions were down in the first two weeks in August. Border Patrol would not share data to back up his statement.
“They’re not allowing anybody to cross,” he says, referring to Mexico’s enhanced enforcement actions following President Trump’s early summer threat to impose tariffs if the Mexicans did not prevent more people from traveling to the U.S.
Cabrera says because of the military, the cartels that control access to the river are blocking paying customers — migrants — from getting into the murky water. The cartel members work for transnational criminal organizations or massive international gangs that charge migrants money to go through land where they have staked their claim. As a result, they dictate when any person crosses the river.
“The cartels don’t want the attention drawn to them because the military’s close by, then nobody’s crossing. And as soon as military moves on to bigger and better things (they move to a different area because a different area’s getting hit), then the floodgates open right back up,” says Cabrera, who names the Gulf Cartel, Los Zetas, and Cartel Del Noreste as the gangs playing for control of the border here.
With fewer people being processed and needing to be cared for, many of the regions 3,000 agents are free to return to their normal patrol tasks from the caretaker roles they’ve been forced to perform for detainees over past six months.
“The numbers are going down,” says Kise. “That has relieved pressure on the agents because just a few months ago, we had 40-50% of our agents were involved in just processing. When that happens that takes away from the border security mission. You may see where a large family group would come across but then all of a sudden you hear [smugglers] running dope somewhere else because all these agents are dedicated to processing that family unit. When that happens and agents are overwhelmed, it’s going to affect border security, because those agents have to be pulled from their primary mission, which is securing the border.”
Kise said sector leadership has been “very good at transitioning with the flows.” Cabrera thinks the majority of agents are back in the field this afternoon. Border Patrol would not share the percentage of local agents in the field.
It’s a calm-after-the-storm sort of feeling that has descended on this place following months and months of crisis mode. Cabrera does not think it will last, but he is grateful agents are finally getting back to doing the job they were hired to do.
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