The region’s top Border Patrol official said Wednesday the current influx of asylum-seeking immigrants is likely to continue for at least another 18 months.
County Judge Lewis G. Owens Jr. asked Del Rio Sector Chief Patrol Agent Raul Ortiz to speak about the immigrant situation during Wednesday’s meeting of Val Verde County Commissioners Court at the Del Rio Civic Center.
Before Ortiz began speaking, Owens said, “One of the main concerns that I’m hearing is if we help, we’re going to end up getting more people. That’s not the case, or is it?”
Ortiz thanked the court for giving him the opportunity to speak.
“What we anticipate is going to continue to happen, at least through the foreseeable future, at least until, potentially, until there is some sort of congressional fix or a remedy that happens outside of probably all of our control,” Ortiz said.
“I will tell you this (Border Patrol) sector seen a dramatic increase in the amount of traffic. Right now, we’re averaging 254 apprehensions a day, and to date, we’ve apprehended 34,000 people already in this sector. That’s a 218 percent increase over where we were last year,” the chief added.
He emphasized the only persons being released in Del Rio are members of family units – a man and a woman with a child or a single man or single woman with a child.
He noted family units make up about 18,000 of the 34,000 persons apprehended in the sector so far this year.
“Historically, we were able to hold a lot of those family units, but we’ve seen increases across the entire southwest border, from San Diego all the way down to the mouth of the Rio Grande in Brownsville. Every sector is up,” Ortiz said.
He said there are not enough beds to accommodate all of the persons being detained.
“We’ve got 51,000 people in custody right now across the nation that represent family units and other adults, and Congress has not funded ICE beyond the number of beds that they have right now, so that forces the Border Patrol to process the individuals we apprehend as quickly as we possibly can, and get them released, so they can get to their final destination and wait for an immigration hearing,” he said.
Ortiz said he has the space to house about 865 detainees in the Del Rio Sector, which stretches from Carrizo Springs to Comstock and northwest to Abilene.
“I’m at 1,100, almost 1,200 people in custody. I’ve established three tents in Eagle Pass to help me with that capacity... but even that is not going to be enough,” Ortiz said.
“When we initially had this conversation a couple of months ago, I told the team that it would be in the community’s best interest to be able to transition these folks out of here as quickly as you possibly can because the last thing you want is for people with limited means to be able to start homesteading in these border communities,” Ortiz said.
“Our goal has always been to facilitate apprehension, process and removal or transition to a point where they have family members or some sort of support system, and they don’t become a burden on communities, especially along the southwest border,” the chief added.
He told the court and audience, “The numbers are not going to stop ... But I do expect us to see an increase in traffic ... We expect at least for the next 18 months we’re going to be dealing with numbers (like) what we’re dealing with now.”
Ortiz said the Border Patrol here will be initiating a medical contract at the end of the month to facilitate medical screening of immigrants.
Ortiz also warned that June and July historically are the sector’s busiest months.