Holding 7,000, Border Patrol struggles with migrant capacity in Valley 

U.S. Border Patrol agents in the Rio Grande Valley are struggling to find space for migrants that represent about double the capacity they can hold in their custody this weekend.

An emergency meeting by administrative agents in the Valley was called Sunday to address the stress placed on their holding limit.

About 7,000 people were in Border Patrol custody across the Valley on Sunday, according to a source familiar with the situation. The agency’s overall capacity, including the Donna tent facility and stations across the Valley, is about 3,000.

For comparison, Border Patrol held about 5,000 people in their custody last Monday, according to remarks U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar made Wednesday. 

The trend started rising two weeks ago when there were about 3,500 migrants in their custody on July 14. Typically, the number of apprehensions winds down during the summer months.

“It’s the hottest part of the summer and apprehensions are skyrocketing!” read a Twitter message from U.S. Border Patrol Chief Brian Hasting’s account on Sunday. “USBP Apprehensions surpassed the 1-million milestone in June. NOW- this week alone – #RGV has apprehended more than 20K illegally present migrants.”

The majority of migrants — about 58% of all apprehensions in June — stopped by Border Patrol are sent back to Mexico under a federal health code known as Title 42 enacted as a result of the pandemic in March 2020.

However, thousands of others are released into local communities either to shelters or transferred to the custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

“In the past week, we’ve seen an increase of families at our site,” Sister Norma Pimentel, executive director at the Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley respite center, said on Sunday. 

Over the last week, at their peak, Pimentel said they received up to 1,200 people a day. Though, she noted, they’re back down to about 800. The shelter’s capacity grew from 600, when they enforced pandemic-related social distancing, to 1,200 after they implemented strict testing and quarantine measures. 

“We have several churches and also the Salvation Army stepping up to take overflow. So, we’re in a good position right now,” Pimentel said. 

One factor affecting the number of people released in McAllen was a recent decision to pause the transfer of migrants apprehended in the Valley and taken to Laredo shelters. Border Patrol made the decision after the city of Laredo filed a lawsuit and Webb County signed a declaration of disaster to prohibit the historical practice. 

About 350 migrants were sent from the Valley to Laredo, according to the lawsuit. On Monday, the Laredo leaders and Border Patrol officials will discuss the future of the transfers.

The number of bed space in ICE facilities is also affecting the number of people detained in Border Patrol custody. 

Last week, there was an increase in people transferred to ICE facilities from the Rio Grande Valley sector, but the number of daily apprehensions outpaced the number of people processed out of Border Patrol custody, according to a source familiar with the situation.

Some of the migrants released at the shelter are under an alternative to detention program and wear ankle GPS monitors, Pimentel confirmed. In spite of the shelter’s ability to hold 1,200 people, they are searching for greater accommodations.

“We are looking, together with the city, at securing another larger location which is not final yet,” Pimentel said. It’s part of the city of McAllen proactive approach to prepare for more releases when Title 42 restrictions on migrant expulsions to Mexico expire. 

“It appears that there is a possibility that Title 42 expulsions for family units may end first (potentially as early as this weekend), with expulsions for single adults ending by the end of July,” a city report prepared for this week read.