We begin with the border crisis that some officials say has turned into catastrophe. Right now, there’s an epic battle in Texas over whether states have the right to protect their own borders from illegal foreigners entering, when the federal government won’t do it. Three years into the Biden Administration, illegal border crossings continue to shatter all-time records, with well over 7,000,000 southwest border encounters in three years. The House is moving to impeach Biden’s Homeland Security Secretary over the chaos. Today, we return to Eagle Pass, Texas, ground zero for growing controversy. And where we find big changes since our last visit a year and a half ago. And as the crisis has worsened, Texas has increasingly crossed swords with the Biden administration.
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.
As the sun rises on Eagle Pass, Texas, one of the first changes we discover is it’s now harder for the media to get a front-row seat to the historic border chaos.
Sharyl (on-camera): Since our last visit to Eagle Pass, authorities have cut off access to the place where many of the illegal border crossings happen, under that bridge. To be clear, they haven’t cut off access to the illegal border-crossers; they’ve cut off access to the media. So, while foreigners can still cross at will, the credentialed press are restricted from public property where we could see it.
The local sheriff, Maverick County’s Tom Schmerber, agrees to get us into the restricted area bordering the Rio Grande. Barbed wire put up by the state is another new feature since our last visit. Tattered clothes mark a popular route.
Like most of America’s border towns, Maverick County, Texas is dominated by Democrats who don’t see eye to eye with President Biden on this issue.
Sheriff Tom Schmerber: Trump years, I know that he kept them on the other side of Mexico, and it stopped. It was stopped. Then when this administration came in, it’s like they opened the borders. Now we have this new president. He’s now opened the doors and opened the arms, and they started crossing.
This group tells us they’ve just come in from Honduras and Venezuela.
Schmerber: They stepped onto the containers.
They’re bound for Houston.
Schmerber: I’ve had burglars from other countries. One time we had one individual from Honduras that raped an old lady, 74 years old.
Sharyl: If you were to catch somebody who had come into the U.S. illegally? Are you allowed to arrest them, hold them, send them back?
Schmerber: No, no, no. Not now. Not right now.
Sheriff Schmerber shows us another recent feature of the border crisis under Biden — too many unidentified bodies to bury.
Schmerber: Some people drown the river, and some died in the brush.
And a trailer to store them.
Schmerber: It’s a big freezer, and we have 23 bodies there right now. And now I’m responsible for this.
Sharyl: How do you feel about that?
Schmerber: I don’t like it. I wish somebody else would take over.
Nearby, a deputy drives us to see another addition to the landscape.
Deputy: It’s a recent build about a year ago.
A giant federal facility built to hold and process masses of foreigners.
Sharyl: So this is in response to the surge we’re all hearing about on the news all the time?
Deputy: Yes. Yes, ma’am. Just about two weeks ago, we had a surge of about 4,500 people across the river.
Sharyl: In a week?
Deputy: Oh, in a day? In a day.
Sharyl: In a day.
Attendants ask us to leave.
Attendant: Y’all can’t take pictures at the site.
Next, we meet up with Sergeant Rene Cordova from the Texas Department of Public Safety.
Even before we can start our interview, we see a group wading across the frigid river from Mexico. Two head back, probably guides, we’re told, who will return with more.
Rene Cordova: As you can see, the disaster we’ve had ever since changes of presidents.
Sharyl: And you’ve been here 20 years. How would you characterize today’s situation over time?
Cordova: A thousand percent difference from when I first got here. You would never, ever see this many people crossing the river. You could actually catch some people in a vehicle four or five, and that was a good day.
Up the river a ways, Cordova shows us new state additions since the Biden surge, besides coils of barbed wire: new open spaces where there used to be brush.
Cordova: Now it makes it a little bit more difficult for them to, they, they have no place to hide here.
Sharyl: So all this space was cleared?
Sharyl: How long ago?
Cordova: It’s been within the past year and a half at least.
Sharyl: And then this is new?
Cordova: Yes. The anti-climbing fence. In order to make it much harder for them, that’s just to get underneath the wire, they’ll just look at it and see that it’s more complicated now.
Sharyl: The state paid for this, not the federal government?
Cordova: Yes. Everything that, that we have here along the border, everything’s state funded.
The Texas border initiative is called Operation Lone Star. As part of it, Governor Greg Abbott has ignited criticism and praise by busing a fraction of the millions of illegal immigrants to sanctuary cities that invite and protect them from deportation.
About 100,000 have been taken to LA, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., Denver, Chicago, and New York City.
Cordova: We’re not really sure which ones are the ones going back. That’s up to U.S. Border Patrol and Customs.
But this dynamic is heading for a dramatic shift March 5th. A new Texas law will make illegal immigration a state crime. Local police will be able to make arrests rather than having to turn people over to border patrol, and the courts can order them back to Mexico.
Sharyl: What are your thoughts as to what the state is trying to do when the federal government is not doing. Does the state have a right to secure its own border?
Cordova: Well, I think basically what the governor’s trying to do, he’s trying to protect the citizens. Because we’re being invaded basically here, and this is actually the back door into the United States.
The sheriff wonders if the new law will create more headaches.
Sharyl: Will that help change things, or what are the challenges?
Schmerber: Well, maybe it will help. I don’t know how much, but for us, for all the sheriffs, it’s gonna be very difficult because we don’t have the manpower to be after immigrants. To process one just individual takes me like 45 minutes. One individual. You’re talking about a group of 30 or something like that, where are gonna put them? I don’t have the space in my jail, nor the time. So it’s very scary and confusing quite why are we gonna do this job?
Sharyl: Can you give people an idea of the scope?
Schmerber: An idea would be what I saw back in December. There was one time that there were like 17,000 immigrants in one day. And it’s no way that deputies or the sheriffs can take care of that situation.
Even before the new law took effect, Texas began flexing its muscles. The week we visited Eagle Pass, the Texas National Guard took control of this same area, shutting out federal Border Patrol, which has been letting more and more foreigners come in illegally, even opening gates in the border fence. The Department of Justice and other advocates for illegal border crossers are arguing Texas’s actions and new law are unconstitutional.
Meanwhile, it’s hard not to notice that everywhere you look, someone’s making a lot money off the border crisis. Billions of dollars are going to federal and local agencies, nonprofits, and contractors for security, transportation, facilities, fencing, labor, processing, and supplies.
The Mexican cartels are getting rich, too. They collect thousands of dollars from most every illegal border crosser, according to Border Patrol. That adds up to somewhere around $14 billion over three years. And that doesn’t count the money they’re making from all of the drugs they’re moving across the porous southern border.
Sharyl (on-camera): The Biden administration blamed Texas for the drowning death of a woman and two children crossing illegally last month, claiming the Texas National Guard wouldn’t let Border Patrol in to rescue them. But it turns out records show the three victims were already deceased long before Border Patrol notified the Guard and tried to get the access to the river. The Justice Department and other advocates for illegal immigrants are suing Texas over the new law that will let local police arrest, saying that law violates the Constitution.
Watch cover story here.