Illegal immigrants are escaping capture at more than double the pace of a year ago, according to Texas figures that show the surge of migrants being caught at the border is just a part of the problem the Biden administration is facing.
The Texas Department of Public Safety, which runs its own camera system under Operation Drawbridge to track illegal entries, shows nearly 21,904 migrants who evaded capture from January through April 7, according to data shared with The Washington Times. That is up from 8,561 “gotaways,” as they are known, during the same period in 2020, which works out to a 156% increase.
Sheriff Joe Frank Martinez in Val Verde County, along the Rio Grande, said that number is likely too low.
“People are coming in by the droves,” he said.
While most of the attention at the border right now is on unaccompanied juveniles, law enforcement officials say the more worrying aspect for border security is the people who aren’t being apprehended at the line.
Law enforcement at some parts of the border report an increase in dangerous encounters with migrants who, rather than flee or give up, are willing to fight.
In Texas, the Cotulla Independent School District sent a letter April 1 warning parents to be wary while their children walk home from school or play outside their homes.
La Salle County, where Cotulla is located, has eight to 10 car chases a day, and many of those result in bailouts as migrants and smugglers ditch their cars and flee through neighborhoods, the school system told parents.
Chases at speeds topping 100 mph have increased along the border, as have accidents involving smuggling attempts. Two mass-casualty events have occurred in the past couple of months. One smuggling crash killed 13 in California, and another killed eight in Texas.
Residents across the border tell visitors that they have never before seen such a situation.
“There’s just utter fear from the residents. No one wants to leave their children alone. They’re teaching their young children how to shoot a gun,” said Rep. James Comer of Kentucky, the top Republican on the House Oversight and Reform Committee, who made a visit to El Paso and the border region of New Mexico this week.
Mr. Comer said law enforcement in Columbus, New Mexico, came across a group of 40 migrants and nabbed 16 of them. “They don’t know what happened to the other 24,” he said.
One indication of the gotaways is how often migrants are trying again.
The Border Patrol reported a 22% recidivism rate in March.
In 2018, the recidivism rate for the entire year — meaning the same person was caught more than once in a 12-month period — was 11%. It was just 7% in 2019.
Todd Bensman, senior national security fellow at the Center for Immigration Studies, spent time in communities just across the border in northern Mexico in recent weeks and said he would encounter large groups that would stream into plazas just after they were caught and returned by Border Patrol agents.
“They would just rest up and get ready to go again that night or the next day,” he said.
He asked one group how many times each had tried. One man said six times, others said two, three or four times. He asked why they kept trying.
“The answer was always that every time we go over with a group, some of us make it through and don’t get pushed back. They just figure eventually they’re the ones that get through,” Mr. Bensman said.
It’s increasingly a good bet.
Brandon Judd, president of the National Border Patrol Council, said the estimate for gotaways was 24,000 in February and 37,000 in March. Those were just the ones agents know about.
He said the smugglers know agents are swamped by dealing with the families and unaccompanied juveniles. Some of the network of highway checkpoints, which used to act as a second sort of virtual border, are shut down because the agents have been redeployed to caretaking duties for the families and children.
It’s part of a broader problem of the smugglers dictating the terms of the border.
They send across families and children knowing it will overwhelm agents, taking them out of play as more high-risk smuggling ventures, such as drugs or migrants who don’t want to be caught, are pulled through the border elsewhere.
“These are the individuals that the cartels are working very hard to evade apprehension,” Mr. Judd said. “That should be scary to anybody, that there were 61,000 in the last two months that we don’t know who they are, we don’t know where they came from, we don’t know their intentions in this country. We’re so tied up with unaccompanied children, family units, that the more dangerous ones are getting away.”
Border experts have long believed that the more people caught, the more are getting through.
Alejandro Mayorkas, now homeland security secretary, made that case to state attorneys general in a speech in 2015. He called the number of apprehensions “a strong indicator” of overall attempts.
The government calculates gotaways through reports from agents and from cameras and sensors, counting the total number of people believed to have crossed and the number they know have been apprehended.
Seeking their own sense of awareness of border activity, state and local jurisdictions have stepped up with their own camera systems.
In Texas, Operation Drawbridge’s cameras are monitored by state analysts who call in border breaches to Border Patrol agents.
In Arizona, Cochise County runs a system, too. Mark Napier, chief of staff for the Cochise County Sheriff’s Office, said the gotaway rate has been fairly consistent for that part of the border from last year to this year.
Mr. Comer, who was making his first visit of the year to the border, said he had read news accounts but “you never know what to believe.” He said visiting the area and speaking with local residents, elected officials and law enforcement was sobering — and worthwhile for those involved in border policymaking.
“It’s worse than I thought,” he said.
He said President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris should make the trip, too. They would hear the same stories about the surge in drug trafficking and human trafficking and growing fears of residents along the border.
“You can’t fully comprehend how bad it is until you spend time down there,” he said.
Sheriff Martinez in Val Verde said he has already recorded eight drownings in the Rio Grande this year. He saw only three in all of 2020.
He estimates that up to 75% of his department’s callouts are for border-related matters.
The ones coming across as families or from faraway countries are not running, but Mexican adult migrants are because they’re the ones who are being immediately sent back, the sheriff said.
The Washington Times tracks border-related criminal cases and has recorded an uptick in agent assault filings and cases with high-speed getaway chases in recent weeks.
In one chase last week in California, agents watched as migrants bailed out of a Honda Accord while it was still in motion. When agents caught up with the driver, he came off the ground with his fists ready. He had to be subdued, agents said in court documents.
During another chase last weekend in Texas, agents said, they were trailing a fleeing Kia sedan that blew through stop signs before slowing down to let four people bail out while still in motion. One man stumbled and smashed his head on concrete, fell unconscious and had to be airlifted to a hospital in San Antonio.
• Stephen Dinan can be reached at email@example.com.
Copyright © 2023 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.
Click to Read More and View Comments
Click to Hide
Please read our comment policy before commenting.