McALLEN— More unaccompanied children were apprehended in the Rio Grande Valley than any other month this year, according to data from U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
In August, CBP agents apprehended 5,198 unaccompanied children in the RGV sector, which encompasses more than 34,000 square miles in South Texas. This area continues to be the busiest border crossing for unaccompanied children with about 63 percent of the total apprehensions across the southwest border, according to CBP data.
These sector numbers are 18 percent lower than at the same in 2014 with more than 54,000 unaccompanied children apprehended so far this fiscal year (October-September), making it the second busiest fiscal year for these types of apprehensions
In 2014, more than 68,000 unaccompanied minors were apprehended in this region, drawing nationwide attention.
These numbers have put a strain on local resources, including the Sacred Heart Immigrant Respite Center, which has been housing an average of 200 migrants each day. Most of the migrants who arrive at the center are family units released by Immigration and Customs Enforcement with a court date and an ankle bracelet.
In August, family units were at their highest point this fiscal year with more than 9,300, also the highest for the month of August reported in the last five years, CBP data shows.
Ciro Ramirez, 32, and his daughter were some of those released Friday. Ramirez fled his hometown in Honduras when he was unable to pay the monthly quota to gang members who had been extorting him and his brother for years at their auto repair shop.
“I just grabbed a backpack and told my wife I loved her,” Ramirez said in Spanish on Friday outside Sacred Heart Church. “I tried to convince my brother to come, but he decided to stay. When we reached Mexico D.F., I called home and they told me he had been killed.”
His brother was 22 years old. Ramirez left behind his wife and two young children. His eldest, 11-year-old Yorleni, refused to stay and ran out the door pleading to go with him.
“I am very attached to him,” Yorleni said in Spanish on Friday. Her big hazel eyes filled with tears as she recalled their trip. “It was scary at times, but I couldn’t let go, he’s the only one I will walk with.”
The two went days without food and spent many sleepless nights on thin cardboard under bridges in Mexico. In Reynosa, he found refuge in a warehouse where they were charged about $17 a night to stay, but after a few nights, Ramirez had to escape because he didn’t have any money.
“They had us locked in there, so the first opportunity I saw, I threw my daughter over the wall surrounding the warehouse and we ran to the nearest intersection and jumped aboard a taxi,” Ramirez said. “We were dropped off at a church, but I knew we couldn’t stay because they would be looking for us.”
He and his daughter bolted for the Rio Grande, where he met two men who asked him for $2,000 to guide him across the river and to a safe house. He told them he did not have any money and decided to jump into the murky water as soon as no one was looking. Once on the other side, he and his daughter turned themselves in to U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents.
“I felt relieved with immigration, but I didn’t feel free until I reached the center,” Ramirez said. “Here, they fed us and gave us clothes and made us feel welcome.”
“When I walked in the door, I thanked God for giving us the opportunity to dodge death and seek a real life for me and my family.” Ramirez said as he and his daughter waited to board a bus headed to Louisiana. He plans to save enough money to bring the rest of his family to the U.S.
More than 37,000 people were apprehended across the entire U.S.-Mexico border last month — the highest reported number for the month of August in the last five years, CBP data shows.
The city sent out a news release Thursday asking for donations and volunteers for the respite center. Requests include deodorant for both men and women, towels, men’s pants sizes 28-34, shoes of all sizes, toothbrushes and toothpaste.
To volunteer or make a donation, call (956) 897-3949.