EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – As apprehensions remain high on the outskirts of the city, a steady stream of asylum-seekers makes its way across the Rio Grande from Juarez to Downtown and Central El Paso every morning.
Many come from familiar places like the Northern Triangle of Central America, but others are faring from much more distant locations. U.S. Customs and Border Protection data shows border agents in El Paso have processed 8,742 Turkish nationals since October 1. That’s a majority of the 11,827 encounters with Turks recorded by CBP in 2022.
Those are unprecedented numbers that experts say are the result of cooperation between transnational criminal organizations in Mexico and Turkey. The Border Patrol and CBP’s Office of Field Operations reported only 49 encounters with Turks in El Paso during the fiscal year 2020 and 1,212 in 2021. The numbers began to shoot up into the thousands in March.
“At one point, 97.4 percent of arrests were Mexican nationals and they came mainly from the seven poorest states in Mexico, and so the dynamics have changed,” said Victor M. Manjarrez Jr., director of the Center for Law and Human Behavior at the University of Texas at El Paso.
Shelling up to $15,000 per trip, the Turks typically fly to Mexico City. The transnational criminal organizations then decide where the newly arrived will cross.
Manjarrez said the favored crossing venue for Turks when he was the Border Patrol’s Tucson Sector chief more than a decade ago was Naco, Arizona.
“We’ve always had Turks. There is a connection to Mexico City and then word-of-mouth gets around which port of entry is easier to enter,” he said. “It’s no different from the Ukrainians who recently arrived in Tijuana. It’s specialized infrastructure; it’s TCO driven.”
The breakdown of how many of the Turkish nationals coming through El Paso were asylum-seekers and how many were trying to evade arrest was not immediately available on Wednesday. But by far, most apprehensions are being made by agents who are on patrol between established U.S. ports of entry.
“These folks that are crossing here today, tonight, they don’t decide, ‘that’s a nice place to cross.’ Their guides, their smugglers say, ‘you’ll cross through here because I already paid the fees’” to the cartels that control vast expanses of the U.S.-Mexico border, Manjarrez said.
Other than Turks, Venezuelans, Nicaraguans, Cubans and Brazilians represent some of the largest groups coming to the Southwest border from regions other than Mexico and Central America, federal officials say.
Lionel, a young adult from Cuba, said he fled amid threats for expressing his political opinion.
“I came to seek asylum because of the situation we are living in Cuba. I am one of the many young people who are leaving,” the asylum-seeker said. “It was hard getting to the border. But our government is genocidal. I, as a Cuban, don’t want to go through that.”
Border Patrol vans can be seen by the Rio Grande levee every morning picking up migrants for processing. Agents use tools such as Google Translate to communicate with those that speak neither English nor Spanish.
One of the first questions they ask is if someone is sick or injured.
Border Patrol Assistant Supervisory Agent Carlos Rivera recently interviewed a Brazilian couple with a young girl in tow.
“We established that they don’t have documentation to be in the country legally,” he said. “But then, obviously, the follow-ups: Is the girl healthy? Do they have a birth certificate? Are they OK?”
Rivera said agents pay special attention to females and children, because of the dangers they face at the hands of smugglers who have proven to be ruthless over the years. “There’s a lot of things that could happen to them on their way here. If they’re seeking immediate medical attention, we’re going to (provide it),” he said.
Manjarrez said Border Patrol agents today have a lot of technology to communicate with non-Spanish and non-English speakers than in the past.
“Thirty years ago, there was no Google Translate, there was no AT&T over-the-phone interpretation … what a luxury,” he said. “Back then the agents had to rely on clues like the clothing the migrant wore. We used to draw maps in the dirt and have the migrant point which region of the world he was coming from.”
El Paso as of May 31 had recorded 177,789 migrant encounters for the fiscal year. The numbers for June are due out in the next few days.