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Battle on Our Border: Migrant surge strains resources along the border

RIO GRANDE VALLEY, Texas (KWTX) - Along the Southwest Border, U.S. Customs and Border Protection took 133,000 migrants into custody in May.

Photo Source: Clint Webb / KWTX

More than 11,000 more were deemed inadmissible at ports of entry.

That’s a spike of about 32 percent from the month before.

Agents, including Carlos Ruiz of the Rio Grande Valley Sector, say they do not have enough resources, manpower, and technology to keep up with the growing influx of people entering the U.S. illegally.

Ruiz says the surge is taking agents away from the border to handle the growing humanitarian crisis, and leaving less time to make arrests.

Last month, nearly 50,000 migrants crossed the border in the Rio Grande Valley, most from Central America.

"We do not know the people trying to avoid apprehension, we do catch a lot of them, but we do not know what's getting away because our resources are strained," said Ruiz.

Border Patrol stations, which are built to handle far fewer people for only a short time, are bursting at the seams.

Temporary facilities have had to be put up to hold the growing masses.

Enormous 500-person tent facilities have opened in both the Rio Grande Valley and in El Paso.

Officials say it is still not enough space and that they will need to build more.

With resources strained, McAllen, Brownsville, and Harlingen are among communities where mass releases of migrants at bus stations have begun.

Long lines form for bus tickets.

Then they head for destinations across the U.S.

Many plan to reunite with family members who are already here.

In 2014, Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley opened its doors to migrants who needed to rest and shower before hitting the road.

At the time, Sister Norma Pimentel says about 50 people a day were served.

Today, it’s about 800 daily.

As the numbers skyrocket, some neighbors are getting tired of the traffic and the constant stream of strangers nearby.

The respite center has been told to move by the City of Brownsville and will soon open in a much larger space to better handle the crowds.

“Without this respite center, we would have all the families begging in the streets, easily kidnapped by others that are trying to take advantage of them. They would be hungry. It would be devastation,” Pimentel said.

Grassroots organizations such as the Angry Tias and Abuelas are also springing up to give migrants a helping hand on the next leg of their journey.
The small group formed about a year ago and is scattered around the area.

Joyce Hamilton shows up to the Harlingen bus station nearly every day to help migrants read their travel maps, answer questions and hand out blankets to make the trip more comfortable.

While she is here, volunteer Elisa Filiponne crosses the International Bridge in Brownsville to Mexico to hand out supplies to asylum seekers living in tent cities waiting to be allowed to cross over into the U.S.

“It began when we learned people were sleeping on the bridges, the Points of Entry with their families on cardboard for five days or more,” said Joyce.

While migrants wait for their buses to arrive in Harlingen, a van from Loaves and Fishes, a local homeless shelter arrives with bag lunches.

Migrants are offered a ride to the shelter, to sleep and shower until it’s time to go.

Until late March, the shelter was only serving the homeless.

“It started on March 20. As a matter of fact, we had about 1,000 people that day. We never got migrants before. That’s probably an indicator of how serious it is," said Bill Reagan, who runs the facility.

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