EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – When more than 1,000 people came across the Rio Grande in a short period of time on March 29, El Paso Border Patrol agents were ready for them.
The agents quickly interviewed the asylum seekers, placed them on buses to the nearest processing center and, when space and manpower began running low, flew the rest to other cities along the Southwest border.
“That (March 29 mass crossing) allowed us to really test our capabilities. That is our ability to move them from the field into our facilities quickly and safely,” said Fidel Baca, a spokesman for the El Paso Sector of the Border Patrol.
In years past, such a contingency would have caused some migrants to wait at the border wall for hours and possibly lead to overcrowding at Border Patrol stations and processing facilities. But lessons learned since last year’s record surge in a region that is still the epicenter of irregular migration into the United States are now being applied diligently.
Those lessons also are prepping agents for the record-setting migrant surge that federal and local officials are warning about when Title 42 authority expires. The Trump-era public health rule that has allowed the Border Patrol to immediately expel unauthorized migrants is expected to end on May 11.
False alarms about the end of Title 42 have brought hundreds of people at a time to the border wall since December. A massive overnight crossing was documented during the second week of February and several hundred people gathered on the Mexican side of the Paso del Norte International Bridge on Monday, forcing U.S. authorities to set up barricades and deploy officers in riot gear to prevent a massive, unauthorized entry.
Experience is also allowing the Border Patrol to transport with greater ease large groups of migrants from any given point along the border wall. Border agents know they can no longer rely just on the holding capacity of their SUVs, so they now call on vans with drivers who learned since the COVID-19 pandemic to accommodate and transport six, 10, 12 or up to 16 people safely along El Paso’s freeways and highways.
“The last couple of years we’ve seen the increase in numbers, so we have to increase our capabilities, not only for moving people but for holding people,” Baca said. “Now we’re to the point we’ve had to incorporate buses into the El Paso Sector. They allow us to move groups of 50 from point A to point B quickly and efficiently.”
Agents are now using a new soft-sided (tent) facility near Chaparral, New Mexico, capable of safeguarding a thousand or more migrants overnight. Constant communication with other sectors allows them to transfer hundreds of newly encountered migrants for same-day processing.
“It’s going to take a long time to get fingerprints checked for 1,000 people because we have to see who is in our country. But if we divide that by three, for example, we only have to handle 300 and we send the other 600 or so to other sectors where they’re able to do that quicker and get them out of our custody as soon as possible,” Baca said.
The federal agency is also finding ways to minimize the use of law enforcement in the direct care of migrants at holding facilities. Contractors now take care of the meals and family care at processing centers such as the one near Chaparral.
The sudden migrant surges also have taught border agents that it’s important to beat transnational criminal organizations at the information war.
The mass crossings and incidents involving hundreds of migrants rushing El Paso ports of entry have been prompted by social media rumors originating in Mexico.
“That is a constant battle that we have to fight, dispelling those rumors, that false information that is reaching migrants in Juarez and is telling them lies, blatant lies that if they come to certain point here in our country they are going to be welcomed,” Baca said. “That is not the case. We are still operating under Title 42. Anybody amenable to Title 42 will be expelled. Anybody with no legal basis to remain in the country is either going to be placed under Title 42 or Title 8 removal procedures.”