We begin at the Southern border where we find the Biden administration's efforts to erase Trump administration policies on illegal immigration are already having a dramatic impact. Supporters of illegal immigration are praising the change. Critics say it threatens to plunge the U.S. into a crisis far beyond what's been seen in recent years. We investigate the border shift.
Along America's southern border we found they’re not just bracing for a surge in illegal immigration— it’s already arrived.
The night before President Biden’s inauguration, 102 people from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador walked to a place where the border wall ends in Arizona, crossed into the US illegally, and gave themselves up.
A view from the sky shows mountain trails in Arizona just north of the Mexican border growing more foot-worn by cartel traffic.
CBP Agent: That’s not animal, that's all human done.
A new trend— drug and human traffickers evading using a “swarming” strategy like the enemy does in Iraq and Afghanistan.
CBP Agent: And what they'll do is they'll stage them along these areas and they'll run to, they'll go a quarter mile down the border, run two more, go a quarter mile down the border run two more and then double back because at the end of the day, there are only so many agents.
John Modlin: Almost 90% of the people that are apprehended in this sector, are single adults that try to avoid apprehensions.
John Modlin leads Border Patrol’s Tucson, Arizona sector covering 262 miles of the boundary between the U.S. and Mexico.
In just the last four months, border officials have intercepted and expelled more than 296,000 illegal border crossers.
Modlin: So right now we're about a hundred percent over where we were this time, this last fiscal year. We've already surpassed in the first four months of this fiscal year. We’ve already surpassed all of 2018. If the flow continues at the rate it is here, by the end of this fiscal year, we will have surpassed ‘18, ‘19 and ‘20, all combined.
All concerned blame the uptick on an expected reversal of get-tough policies put in place under President Trump. At the end of 2018, 2,000 immigrants a day were being intercepted at the Southern border prompting security concerns and a humanitarian crisis. In early 2019, the Trump administration invoked “Migrant Protection Protocols” forcing those seeking asylum to wait in Mexico. Then in 2020, “Title 42”— an emergency health order — let border officials immediately turn back illegal immigrants because of Covid-19.
The moves had a dramatic impact. By May of 2020, 90% of illegal immigrants caught at the Southwest border were being expelled. And the number intercepted dropped from about a million in 2019, to roughly half that in 2020.
Sharyl (on-camera): Illegal border crossers were being taken back to Mexico and released. Now they are getting released inside U.S. border communities.
65 miles north of the border, Willcox, Arizona, Mayor Mike Laws heard rumors of a new plan to use his small city as a repository for overflow from an expected onslaught of illegal immigration through a large Border Patrol station that happens to be situated on the edge of town.
Mayor Mike Laws: I don't have soup kitchens. I don't have a facility to even put someone in, to put beds in.
Border Patrol’s plan is to escort the border crossers here and point them in the direction of the local Greyhound bus stop at the Texaco station.
(walking in to Texaco station)
Laws: This is where they buy the bus ticket, right here.
Sharyl: And then they'd walk out here.
Laws: Yeah, they go out here.
(walking out of Texaco station)
Sharyl: That’s that's the bus station bench?
Laws: That's the bus station bench.
Sharyl : What do you envision happening?
Laws: Well, they're claiming that we could possibly have 30 to 40 people a day. Do the math. And if they were standing out here and the bus, sometimes, doesn't come for three days. Where are they going to go?
The biggest immediate concern, he says, is what he just learned at the meeting he called with Border Patrol to confirm the rumors. Unlike US citizens returning from foreign travel, the illegal immigrants will be brought in and released with no Covid testing.
Feb. 18, 2021 Willcox City Council meeting:
Willcox City Councilmember: You guys are not doing testing, and just putting them out to us and letting us deal with it?
Alexander Blais, Border Patrol: So it's a good question. And the answer, the short answer is no, we are not testing.
Sharyl: Did they say why they're not?
Laws: They did not. They just said they had orders not to, but yet, we check ourselves for COVID, if we get sick. And then he said, "Well, take them to the hospital." I asked Moe, the head of the hospital, I said, "So what do you think about that?" She goes, "I have 24 beds, and they're full. I can't take any."
Sgt. Tim Williams: This is not law. This is not even what would you call organized. This is just mass transit from one country to another, with a very deadly disease that they could be bringing across.
Tim Williams and his team at the Cochise County Arizona Sheriff’s Office try to plug some of the holes with a surveillance camera system they designed. It’s been picking up far more smugglers and traffickers than Border Patrol can catch.
Williams: Normally we’d see between three to 400 a month come across our corridor that we work. We’re currently seeing anywhere, 25 to 2,800 come across every month trying to make it North. It's a free ticket to the United States at this point.
Sharyl: How's that going to make law enforcement just in general, more difficult?
Williams: Well, if you think about it, if we averaged, we had about 18,000 crossings that we saw last year in just my system alone. That if you think about 18,000 people that come across now that are just going to hit our communities, that's tremendous impact when some of our towns are only three to 4,000 people in population.
Sharyl: Are you hearing anything from the communities that are upset about that?
Williams: Absolutely. Community, we've had several meetings. Big thing is we're trying to convince communities not to take actions in their own hands.
For Tyler Klump and other ranchers along the border it’s not their first rodeo with shifting policies and spikes in illegal traffic.
Tens of thousands cross their land— smuggling drugs, leaving trash, cutting fences and sometimes breaking into their houses and trucks.
Sharyl: What is the talk about what's happening now and what, if anything, may change?
Tyler Klump: The talk is that you don't have a lot of help from the federal government, that you are kind of on your own, and that you needed to provide for you and your family and your neighbors.
Sharyl: What is the worry?
Klump: The wait times are crazy. If you needed help, it'd be a long time getting here. And also, the worry is that they have their back up against the wall, the border patrol do, and they're going to keep having their back up against the wall, and it ain't going to get any better. And even if they want to do their job, they can't. So the worry is that you don't have a lot of people on your side, but the good thing is that we kind of know what's coming and we kind of know what's happening, and we're not going to be led in the dark with our eyes closed anymore.
This past week, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas told reporters there’s no crisis at the border.
Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas (March 1st): I think there is a challenge at the border that we are managing, and we have our resources dedicated to managing it. We are operating under a broken immigration system, and we need to fix it.
Unfortunately, there are many exceptions to the hardworking, well-meaning immigrants.
Sheriff Mark Dannels: Sharyl, this is a picture off our camera system.
Sharyl: Is that an automatic?
Dannels: Yeah, semi-automatic rifle that can cause some serious, serious injuries to somebody, and death.
Sharyl: And as far as you know, Border Patrol didn't get him?
In late January, an emergency lookout was issued through the El Paso, Texas sector for three Russians “known to have been traveling with a confirmed terrorist.” No word on whether they were picked up.
Sharyl: What if it's somebody who's armed and carrying drugs, or something like that?
Klump: Well, if somebody's armed that's carrying drugs, I'm going to stay out of their way and pray to God they stay out of mine too. Because that's all you can do.
Klump says he thinks most of those who come illegally are seeking a better life and, in that case, he says they should keep heading north.
Klump: Let them go into the interior of the country where the jobs are and where they can find a life for their families, because if you're not going to enforce your border laws, if you're not going to enforce your regulation laws, then I'd say go where the jobs are. Go where there's money, because there's no money on the border.
Sharyl (on-camera): The Biden administration is already moving forward with transporting to the U.S. at least 25-thousand foreigners who've been waiting in Mexico for court dates. Next week, our border investigation continues with a startling look at what happened when border wall construction— stopped overnight.