By Jana Winter
“You’re going to be out here a long time. There are thousands of us.”
– Fernando, El Salvadoran child apprehended at the Mexican border
Life jackets of all sizes and the occasional punctured raft are strewn along the banks of the Rio Grande, just south of Mission, Texas, where a relentless onslaught of illegal immigrants eagerly surrender to beleaguered Border Patrol agents around the clock.
It’s a cycle for which there is no end in sight.
“You’re going to be out here a long time,” Fernando, an El Salvadoran child, told FoxNews.com shortly after surrendering to Border Patrol authorities after midnight Saturday. “There are thousands of us.”
With most of the men and women charged with securing the Mexican border busy processing some of the 60,000 illegal immigrants who have made the harrowing – and sometimes deadly -journey to the American border in the past nine months, only a handful of Border Patrol agents drive the riverside loop in a small town called Granjeno just south of Mission, in the Rincon peninsula.
Illegal immigrants of all ages, including many unaccompanied children, run to them to surrender. They are piled into the back of Border Patrol vehicles and taken to a makeshift staging area in Rincon Village, where a large Border Patrol bus waits to transport them to McAllen’s Border Patrol facility.
FoxNews.com accompanied Texas lawmaker Louie Gohmert, a former judge and current Republican Congressman, to the site in the pre-dawn hours of Saturday. Gohmert, whose district lies some 550 miles northeast of what has become the most heavily-trafficked people-smuggling route in the world, has been to the location many times, but has never seen it so understaffed and overwhelmed.
“I’m more concerned than ever [that the border is] so seriously undermanned and I’ll be raising hell in Washington,” Gohmert, who invited FoxNews.com to see the situation first-hand, would later tell Border Patrol officials.
The Border Patrol agents loaded and unloaded their vehicles packed with the newly-arrived illegal immigrants — including women pregnant or nursing infants, and small, unaccompanied children — throughout the evening and early morning hours. At first, they were mostly teenagers, ages 14 to 17, arriving with their mother or brothers or no one at all. Then came the pregnant women. A mother nursing her infant. A small girl with wide eyes clutching a doll.
A total of 72 came in during the first dark hours of Saturday morning. A third were unaccompanied children.
The life jackets helped many make it across the Rio Grande from Reynosa, the Mexican city across the water from Mission, just west of McAllen. Sources say they come over on rafts ferried by the so-called “coyotes,” the human smugglers whose means of transport are rendered useless whenever discovered by the Border Patrol. Many don’t make it across the river; multiple sources became emotional when recounting their discoveries of small, lifeless bodies washed up along the riverbank.
Tens of thousands of illegal immigrants have flocked to the U.S. in recent months, believing the Dream Act, as well as a 2008 law that grants an asylum hearing to any child not from a border nation, and the White House policy known as “prosecutorial discretion” means once they arrive, they’ll never have to go back.
The Obama administration has said many will be returned to their homelands, but thousands have been dispersed around the country, sent to military bases or one of the nearly 100 Health and Human Services shelters run by private contractors or faith-based organizations. From there, they are typically turned over to a parent or relative already in the U.S. or released to a sponsor organization and given a court date for their hearing.
Many of the illegal immigrants tell Border Patrol and Texas state authorities they learned from the media in their home countries that if they crossed the border to the U.S. right now, they’d be given papers and allowed to stay, border sources who interview the immigrants told FoxNews.com.