In a series of written and video reports from both sides from the US-Mexico border during 2021 and the coming new year, Todd Bensman explores the causes and consequences of the mass-migration crisis he predicted in a November 2020 column titled “Will We See a ‘Biden Effect’ at the Border?” The crisis began several months before the national presidential election, when aspiring immigrants bet that Joe Biden would win and open the border to them. That’s just what happened, and the crisis quickly escalated after Biden took office. This ongoing series of stories from the border reflect conditions on both sides of the border from the El Paso, Big Bend, Rio Grande Valley, and Del Rio Border Patrol Sectors of Texas during the Biden first year in office and beyond. Reporting was done from Juarez, Acuna, Piedras Negras, Ojinaga, Reynosa and elsewhere in Mexico.
Rio Grande Valley and Reynosa, Mexico – November 2021
President Joe Biden’s Department of Homeland Security is carrying out secretive and escalating air deportations of tens of thousands of migrant border-crossers, a high percentage of them evidently Central American women and children who were supposed to be protected from deportation and, more recently, Haitians. The air deportation operations to distant home countries, a tactic that has proven highly effective at deterring follow-on illegal migration, appear to have ferried home significant numbers of migrants who recently crossed the southern border illegally — probably well in excess of 65,000 from August through October and thousands more in November, a Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) analysis of aircraft flight data, direct observation at the McAllen airport, a pilot interview, and other public information indicate.
See Video Report on Air Deportations from Rio Grande Valley
Boiled down, Senda De Vida helps expelled or newly arrived migrants begin the process of seeking asylum in the United States from Reynosa (often with a new cell phone app and assisted by American immigration lawyers) and then to wait in line for a rich reward: a CPB invitation to enter the United States at the port of entry on the way to settling in an American city of their choosing and to work while waiting for their asylum claims to adjudicate. The Biden administration has allowed hundreds of thousands to receive the same reward already after many of those migrants paid steep smuggling fees to criminal Mexican syndicates and crossed illegally, with many still ending up expelled under Title 42 after paying.
But the Reynosa system offers a chance to bypass that investment risk and expense for those willing to wait – sometimes for several months – in conditions made comfortable enough to create a strong enticement for more migrants to try it out. Mexican government agencies, unspecified private donors, and immigration advocates support all migrant needs for as long as it takes for the migrants to get across.
The Del Rio Mass Migrant Encampment – 8 Days of September 2021, Acuna and Piedras Negras
15,000 Haitians and Cubans mass in Del Rio, Texas, amid obvious Border Patrol stand-down orders
DEL RIO, Texas – Thousands of mostly Haitian migrants (joined by Cubans and other nationalities) have poured entirely unopposed across the Rio Grande and occupied a massive beachhead here on the Texas side that is unparalleled in size, filth, and as an escalating management challenge to a Joe Biden administration that has so far refused to publicly acknowledge it. But this remarkable development in the border crisis will not be ignored for long as hundreds of new migrants per hour arrive, far faster than Border Patrol agents and National Guard personnel process them. In barely a week, the number of illegal immigrants who have walked over a cyclically low Rio Grande reached 10,000, city officials – notably not federal representatives – said Thursday during a tightly managed press “tour” arranged by the city of Del Rio that was stopped some 200 yards from the migrants. The numbers appear to be growing by the hour with no end in sight, ballooning from some 2,000 on Sunday to 6,000 by Wednesday, to 8,000 by Thursday morning and then to 10,000 by that evening.
“In my 20-year career, I have never seen anything this out of control,” one CBP officer told CIS.
A surprising explanation from the migrants themselves
As federal and state authorities work to shutter the migrant shantytown, a basic necessary question has gone unasked and unanswered: Why did this happen? The answer to that might better inform any American response to make sure it never happens again, with an encampment of that size’s latent public safety and national security threat. To find the answer, this writer came to Ciudad Acuna, the city through which the migrants had passed to form the encampment and asked several dozen of them what happened. The surprising answer, which the migrants provided independently in different places and at different times, was universal: on Sunday, September 12, the Mexican government effectively sent a mass of migrants it had bottled up for months in its southern states up to the American border. This move, which appears to have been done under the cover of Mexico’s independence week of celebration known as El Grito, essentially foisted a humanitarian problem onto the Americans in a single week.
Buying bus tickets back to Tapachula in the south
CIUDAD ACUNA, Mexico — An uncharacteristic policy choice by President Joe Biden’s administration to begin deporting Haitian migrants from the Del Rio, Texas, camp to Port-au-Prince, Haiti, struck immigrants here with such force that dozens are boarding buses and returning the way they came, angered or saddened and unwilling even to risk any alternative attempt to cross elsewhere. Late Sunday, this writer found and interviewed dozens of Haitians in the Ciudad Acuna bus station buying south-bound tickets to get as far away from Texas as possible — a stark reversal from just days earlier when cavalcades of buses arriving from southern Mexico were disgorging Haitians headed to the Del Rio encampment. Over the weekend, the Department of Homeland Security removed 3,300 of the Haitians from the camp and flew 327 to Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital. DHS announced that daily flights will continue.
According to the migrants interviewed by Bensman, they retreated southward from Texas out of fear of deportation to Haiti. They have been getting messages for three days from Haitians who have been deported; those deported include men, women, and children. Their friends who have been deported are saying to stay away from the American buses they are being asked to board. They are claiming that they were led to believe that the buses were taking them into the U.S., but instead they were taken to the airport and flown to Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
Parsing Immigration Policy, Episode 22
September 23, 2021
Thousands of illegal aliens poured into Del Rio, Texas last week forming an encampment that eventually peaked with an estimated 15,000 migrants. Thousands of mostly Haitians, but also Cubans and other nationalities, waited for processing to enter the country as an overwhelmed Biden administration struggled to control the growing camp, and Texas moved to stop the numbers from going even higher. After several days of watching the numbers multiply, the Biden administration moved to control the political damage of the shantytown, and began deporting some Haitians to their native country; however, most of them had been living and working in Brazil and Chile for years, and fled to Mexico instead of risking deportation. But an even larger number of the illegal aliens were rewarded for their efforts and appear to have been paroled into the United States. Thousands more continue to wait in the shrinking encampment. Todd Bensman, the Center’s senior national security fellow, has spent the week in Del Rio and across the Rio Grande in Mexico talking with migrants to understand why they came to Del Rio and why now. In this week’s episode of Parsing Immigration Policy, he answers both of those questions and describes the situation on the ground.
Host: Mark Krikorian is the Executive Director of the Center for Immigration Studies.
The 15,000 of the Del Rio camp, however shiny a bauble it was for network news cameras, amount to a typical Texas breakfast hour on any given day, so vast is the crisis that spawned their riverbank shanty town. Two main actionable takeaways from Del Rio that the White House, Congress and the US media should know, study and actually apply to significantly temper the crisis that birthed Del Rio, are that:
- Rolling out repatriation flights to home nations as a credible threat proved to be a magic pill for sharply reducing mass illegal immigration and should be retained and expanded to the rest of the border and other nationalities now.
- Del Rio revealed a deeply troubled US-Mexico diplomatic relationship that relied on carrots but requires a radically different American approach that involves the stick, which proved miraculously effective during September.
Rio Grande Valley – June 2021
Podcast: D-Day on the Rio Grande? The Biden Administration Facilitates Mass Illegal Immigration
Parsing Immigration, Episode 6
Todd Bensman, the Center’s Senior National Security Fellow, traveled to the Rio Grande Valley in South Texas to investigate how the Border Patrol, Texas National Guard, and Texas Department of Public Safety are handling the influx of illegal immigrants. Having viewed this area – ground zero for illegal immigration crossings – by water, air, and land, Bensman shares his observations on enforcement at the border, where federal law enforcement has been ordered by the Biden administration to stand down, and now spends more time processing and welcoming illegal immigrants than apprehending them. Bensman and the host of Parsing Immigration Policy, CIS executive director Mark Krikorian, share their views on the normalization of federal agents passively observing and even facilitating mass illegal entry. Is the federal government in effect running an enterprise jointly with the Mexican smugglers?
Surely, one of the most unusual yet least-reported or publicly discussed aspects of the current mass-migration crisis is that law enforcement officers do not arrest the raft coyote smugglers anymore, even when they’re just feet away. As a result of this hands-off truce, those smugglers now freely and fearlessly do their work right in front of agents who, as CIS has extensively reported, feel they are under orders to act more like Walmart greeters than law enforcers.
In all my years of working on the border, I had never witnessed anything like what I would see at just one of hundreds of openly established raft crossing points along the south Texas border, a reflective microcosm of a mass illegal immigration involving mainly families and children. All through that night and deep into the morning on the Texas riverbank, I watched what reminded me of a D-Day-like landing of Mexican cartel smugglers paddling blow-up rafts — sometimes two or three abreast in unending succession — brimming with men, women and children — under the indifferent watch of US authorities ordered by the Biden administration to stand down. Mexican cartel raft pilots unloaded passengers just feet away from National Guard soldiers, Border Patrol agents, and Texas Department of Public Safety officers who not very long ago would have pounced on them. In a most unnatural truce between natural adversaries, all badged American authority figures now work under orders to do nothing to obstruct the delivery of foreign families and to do everything to keep them moving inland to processing stations.
The State of Texas has invested heavily in a new border security operation to fill what Republican leaders perceive as a federal failure at the southern border with Mexico. It has deployed the Texas Department of Public Safety air, land, and marine. The last time DPS similarly invested in border security like this was an $800 million Operation Strong Safety during the Obama administration years.
During his recent trips to both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border, Todd Bensman, the senior national security fellow at the Center for Immigration Studies, spoke with human smugglers and their migrant customers, as well as border agents and local residents. Bensman shares their stories about the consequences of U.S. policies that have caused the surge of illegal crossings at the border. They range from the smuggling cartels’ sales pitches to potential migrants in Central America to persuade them to spend thousands of dollars on a risky journey to the U.S., to the dispersal of these illegal migrants across the country through Biden’s “catch-and-bus” policy of releasing these lawbreakers on the honor system.
Big Bend and Ojinaga, Mexico- May 2021
For the first time in local memories, rising streams of large groups — 50-to-100 illegal immigrants each — are constantly flowing through the normally quiet Big Bend Sector, one of the biggest, most remote, and perhaps out-of-mind of the eight designated CBP operating areas along the southern border. With 165,154 square miles and 571 miles of Rio Grande border in West Texas, Big Bend also is historically the least trammeled by illegal immigrants, perhaps because of its deterring harshness. Not anymore, though.‘There’s no one watching’, a smuggler says.
Interviews in Mexico of nine illegal immigrants describe how the ultra-violent La Linea drug cartel is cashing in on Biden’s new border enforcement leniency. The cartel has deployed a cold-call sales force throughout Central America, at least, selling all-inclusive travel packages for about $11,000 to Central Americans, where the salesmen found that word of the new laxity had predisposed young men to buy in.
Why the mass migration crisis is more severe than official reporting suggests. What the general public sees each month are CBP figures that only reflect actual physical “apprehensions” or “encounters”, published as the primary indicator of how many people are illegally crossing the land borders. But got-away statistics would true the total numbers higher into politically uncomfortable reality.
Del Rio March 2021
Tens of thousands of immigrants caught illegally crossing the border and then released under the new leniency policy of President Joe Biden are now dispersing to four corners of the United States on buses, with some of the more moneyed ones taking passenger jets. They often drop their Haitian, Venezuelan, and Cuban passengers in Florida and New Jersey. Those from Nicaragua and other Central American nations have been delivered to Tennessee, Massachusetts, Indiana, Michigan, North Carolina, Georgia, Kentucky, and to large cities in Texas such as Dallas and Houston.
The Biden administration has cut a deal to have Mexico maintain and expand a national guard deployment on its southern border with Guatemala, as a means to temper the embarrassing political specter of the mass-migration crisis. But immigrants in far northern Mexico describe at least five methods by which they busted the southern blockade.
Aspiring illegal immigrants in the area are among thousands tapping a kind of black market “shopping” network that, in this time of inconsistently applied American lenience, identifies U.S. border sectors that reportedly work well for illegal immigrants. Such shopping would seem a natural outgrowth of inconsistent application of policies across the southern border since the Biden inauguration and various executive orders reversing Trump administration policies.
El Paso-New Mexico February 2021
A dozen U.S. Border Patrol agents who, by virtue of their 40-hour weeks working with and without new and old border walls, feel they are the only ones who can speak with authentic, first-hand expertise as to how well the wall systems work. Here’s what they think about President Joe Biden’s decision to end construction on Donald Trump’s border wall in late January, 2021.
In line with President Joe Biden’s proclamation to end construction of the southern border wall, the heavy machinery that had built 450 miles of it under President Donald Trump suddenly fell silent on Wednesday, January 27. Bensman was there when the work-freeze hit and most workers didn’t show up at one of many construction sites. This site was deep in the wind-raked desert of New Mexico at Monument 31, some 75 miles west of El Paso and 30 miles further from this town known for a 1915 battle with the famous Mexican rebel Pancho Villa. The fence here stopped abruptly at the bottom of a steep hill. About a mile or so away over that hill and beyond, construction on a connecting wall segment also stopped, leaving the mile-long gap of no barrier at all.
Frustrated that Biden hasn’t opened the border fast enough, Cubans and others talk of simply rushing over. “They are going to do something very interesting, and it’s not going to be at the bridge this time,” Manuel said, based on the chatter in one Cuban social media group of 1,300 members and in another one of a thousand Central Americans who may join in the charge. “If it turns out that there is no hope of crossing, it [a mass charge] will happen again. They don’t want to do anything wrong, but they are tired of being in Mexico.”