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New year, new challenges for Border Patrol as migrant influx not slowing down

Border Patrol officials with the Del Rio Sector said agents are encountering an average of 1,000 migrants a day.

DEL RIO, Texas — Over the last year, Border Patrol agents along the southwest border have seen record numbers of migrants crossing into the U.S.

In just November in the Del Rio Sector, agents encountered 29,797 migrants from 60 different countries, officials said that’s more than a 241% increase over November 2020.

During this continued surge, a new chief is taking the helm over the Del Rio Sector.

Jason Owens stepped into his new role just a few weeks ago, as many people remember Del Rio as ground zero for the massive influx.

Owens said he watched with the world as at least 17,000 migrants gathered under the International Bridge in Del Rio back in September. 

“It was unbelievable. I'd never seen anything like it before,” said Owens. 

But, now the 25-year-veteran of the agency is no longer watching the surge from a distance, and moving into the leadership role as the sector has seen unprecedented numbers this year.

“I know there's a lot of challenges. I know there's a lot of frustration at what continues to happen,” said Owens.  “So, I'm excited to jump in and do my part.”

Owens said the crisis under the bridge brought attention to the challenges that agents face every day.

“We're still seeing anywhere from 800 to 1,000 people a day in this sector alone, crossing illegally,” said Owens.

Owens said most of the migrants are single males, and often coming in large groups of over 100.  The high numbers are forcing agents from the front lines into processing facilities which are most often over capacity.

“Every single person sometimes we have is tied up processing the people that are coming across and giving themselves up and maintaining some sense of security at the holding facilities,” said Owens. “Sometimes there are just not enough people to get to all the places where we are needed.”

Owens said the cartels are taking advantage of the gaps in security, using the large groups and unaccompanied children as decoys to divert the agents’ attention.

“So that they can then do something else while we deal with the influx of migrants coming across,” said Owens.  “That can be anything from narcotics smuggling, to weapons smuggling, to bona fide criminals and sexual predators that are looking to find their way in that don’t want to be seen by us.”

Another concern is the criminal element, in the past few months agents have found abandoned weapons along the river, and smugglers carrying guns.

“Just recently, we started encountering criminal smugglers that are armed as they're bringing people across,” said Owens.  “You have to ask yourself, ‘Why are they armed? What's their intent? What's their purpose?.’”

“It’s an important message for everyone to know, is that border security and what’s going on here does not just impact the border community, it impacts us all,” he added.

Owens said this is a pivotal time for agents as they face another challenging year ahead.

“We're seeing an uptick. The numbers that we saw last year were actually on pace this year to outdo, and that's across the board, that's with rescues, that's with deaths, that's with sheer apprehensions. That's with the number of smuggling cases,” said Owens.

Owens said they’re working with officials in Mexico and local partners to prepare if another large caravan makes its way to the Del Rio Sector.

“So, the caravans are nothing more than a symbol of what we face each and every day.  If you look at Del Rio Sector alone, if you take an average of a thousand people a day that we see that’s about 30,000 people a month, that’s the town, every single month coming through the Del Rio Sector alone,” said Owens.