We begin with an important story we’ve been covering closely for years: The Border. The current crisis is marred by record numbers of illegal border crossings and immigrant deaths, and record fentanyl smuggling and U.S. deaths. Border states have largely been left on their own to fight back. We’re just back from Eagle Pass, a South Texas town bearing the unfortunate brunt of the border crisis.
The following is a transcript of a report from "Full Measure with Sharyl Attkisson." Watch the video by clicking the link at the end of the page.
On our trip to Eagle Pass, Texas, it’s first light. Border authorities know exactly what time and where people will gather on the Mexican side of the Rio Grande to walk or swim across to the U.S. The river is high and fast-moving after lots of rain. U.S. rescue boats pick up those who look like they might not make it. Others make it to shore and walk along the fence line into U.S. custody. Many will be transported to an American city of their choice.
There are as many as 2,000 illegal border crossers processed each day now in Eagle Pass, and a similar number not caught. That’s equal to the town’s entire population of 28,000 moving through every week. So many, they’ve built this giant processing center near the local airport.
It’s clear they’re fighting a war without help they need from the federal government and, they say, because of the federal government.
(Sharyl on-camera): Texas is trying to step in where the federal government will not. The Governor has signed a disaster declaration authorizing the use of all available resources to enforce the laws and prevent human trafficking, drug smuggling, and illegal border crossings.
Sergeant Juan Maldonado: That is very dangerous.
Sergeant Juan Maldonado is with Texas Highway Patrol.
Maldonado: Operation Lone Star started back in March of 2021.
Operation Lone Star has deployed more than 1,400 troopers, rangers, and other resources, costing $2.5 million a week. They’ve called in more than 6,000 Texas National Guard troops, positioned giant containers along the border to discourage crossings, and used leftover panels from Trump’s abandoned wall project to build new barriers.
Maldonado: The reason that we're out here to secure Texas is because the federal government has failed to provide the federal agents here the resources and the policies to apprehend the undocumented aliens.
Texas is also spending more than a billion dollars on barriers for state and private property, building more than 100 miles so far, including this fence on Jim Hobbs’ ranch.
Sharyl: And, this is Mexico right there?
Jim Hobbs: That's Mexico right across there, yes.
Hobbs says as many as 1,400 illegal border crossers have been caught on his land in a single day. He videos some of them— and the mess they leave behind.
Sharyl: Do they climb over the fence?
Hobbs: No, they let them through.
Sharyl: Border Patrol lets them through?
Hobbs: Yeah, like right now they've still got places where they haven't finished the fence. And they've got gates. They let them through. I’ve never seen anything like this, been here all my life.
Sharyl: What do you attribute that to?
Hobbs: Mr. Biden. They're just letting them in.
We saw for ourselves when Sheriff’s Deputy Aron Horta drove us to some hotspots.
This group just crossed the river, criminal trespassing on private property. But they’re on U.S. soil, so Border Patrol unlocks and opens a gate to let them in.
Sharyl: De donde eres? Where are you from?
Border crosser: Venezuela
Sharyl. Venezuela. Y tu?
Border Crosser: Venezuela.
In Donald Trump’s last year in office there were 458,000 encounters on the southern border. President Biden’s first year in office saw that number balloon to an all-time high in American history: 1.7 million. With two months left in this fiscal year, that record already shattered, approaching 2 million, more than 5,400 every day.
But for all the money and manpower Texas is devoting, immigration is under federal authority.
Sharyl: So there's nothing that can be done technically right now to keep the numbers down, to keep people from coming?
Maldonado: No, ma'am. They, they have a free open range coming across the river right now. They walk, literally cross the river, and it's an everyday issue.
Sheriff Tom Schmerber: It's really, I mean, it's like, we're overrun.
Tom Schmerber is the Democrat Sheriff of Eagle Pass’ Maverick County.
Sharyl: I noticed the Texas Guard has come to help. But what I've seen them do is help rescue them. They're not keeping anybody out.
Schmerber: The National Guard don't have any power of arrest.
Sharyl: So The Guard is pretty much just an extra pair of hands to help process the people that come?
Schmerber: That's what it is. A extra pair of hands.
Here, on the border crisis, Democrats and Republicans are very much on the same page.
Mayor Rolando Salinas: I'm very disappointed in the federal government, to be honest.
Democrat Rolando Salinas is Mayor of Eagle Pass.
Salinas: And I've opened the invitation to anyone in the administration, whether it be President, Vice President, or one of his representatives, to please come to Eagle Pass, Texas. We are part of the United States. Please come and take, take a look of what's happening in our community, of the amount of people that are crossing through our community. We cannot sustain all these thousands of people crossing through Eagle Pass.
Republican Tony Gonzales is the area’s representative in the U.S. Congress.
Rep. Tony Gonzales: You know, when the Biden administration first took office, their approach was very simple: "Whatever Trump did, we're gonna do the opposite." And I understood that, but that is not a plan. And they turned a blind eye. I mean, I couldn't get a call back. They would not pay attention. And it wasn't just me. I mean, it was anyone along the border. Henry Cuellar, my Democrat colleague to the south, Vicente Gonzalez. I mean, everybody. They just turned a blind eye.
Sharyl: What is your conclusion more than a year and a half into the Biden administration with no attempts publicly to change things?
Gonzales: All that has caused is millions of people to now live in the shadows. Here in Eagle Pass, you know, before, our local firefighters would have to deal with around 20, 25 drownings a year. Now they're dealing with over 30 drownings a month. You know, pulling babies out of the water is not normal. And the Biden administration is almost giving themselves high fives saying, you know, "Let's do more.”
There’s no clearer view of the chaos than from the air with the Texas Department of Public Safety or DPS.
DPS pilot: We got one, two, three, four, five in the water right now.
This year, a record-setting hundreds of illegal immigrants are counted among the dead.
DPS pilot: Oh, they have, uh, a body at the...
DPS pilot: Oh, they sure do.
We’ve long asked President Biden and his representatives for interviews, but they’ve declined. The administration is on record insisting the border is under control, there’s no crisis, and they’re just cleaning up from Trump’s policies.
Karine Jean-Pierre/White House Press Secretary (July 29): We are cleaning up the mess that the prior administration made. We are trying to save lives. This is what, this is what the prior administration left behind that we are now cleaning up.
Sharyl: Anything you'd like people to know who will never visit the border, just about what's happening here?
Schmerber: Yeah. I want them to know that whatever's coming through here, the people that are up there in the north, comfortable, that all these immigrants are heading up there. They are gonna end up over there, looking for assistance — state, federal assistance. And some immigrants that don't have any skills, eventually, they'll turn to criminal things.
Salinas: I hope they give us some sort of answers. A detailed plan and action .
Sharyl : What if their plan is: this is the plan?
Salinas: Well then, that's unfortunate. And we will keep doing our best to maintain the order that we have.
Sharyl: All the farmers or ranchers around here, do you talk about getting together and trying to do anything?
Hobbs: Nah, there's nothing we can do. Just put up with it, I guess, until something changes. Hopefully, soon.
Sharyl (on-camera): A recent NPR poll found that more than half of Americans, 53%, say the U.S. is experiencing an invasion at the southern border.
Watch cover story here.