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Face to face with cartels smuggling migrants through holes in the wall


JUAREZ, MEXICO — While driving along a highway some 15 miles west of this cartel-infested Mexican metropolis last month, I couldn’t help but notice an unending series of scars all along the parallel steel-mesh length of border wall, built during the George W. Bush era, that closely ran alongside it.

At intervals of about every foot of this old wall segment for several miles, at about knee to ankle level, cartel human smugglers had cut out square segments of the steel mesh on the Mexican side big enough for adults to pass through.

I counted seven unpatched square holes in a short stretch, each hole deeply trammeled with footprints on both sides of the wall.

While I was photographing one of the holes up close, two La Linea cartel men armed with AR-15s pulled up in an SUV loaded with immigrants to use it.

Oops, I smiled, disarmingly, caught red-handed at the very hole they intended to use, offering to leave right away and praying they wouldn’t open fire.

“No problemo!” the passenger-side one said, smiling.

He waved goodbye, signaled the driver to hit the gas, and drove a hundred yards further on, where they offloaded six immigrants whom I saw run straight to yet another hole and disappear through it.

Border Patrol has an official nomenclature for the kind of immigrants I watched going through that hole: “runners” who, if they are not caught, become “gotaways” once they complete their long guided-backpacking treks to a US highway and get picked up for rides to American cities.


Todd Bensman holds up cut up piece at the USA Mexican border.
Todd Bensman

I counted seven unpatched square holes in a short stretch, each hole deeply trammeled with footprints on both sides of the wall.
He counted seven unpatched square holes in a short stretch, each hole deeply trammeled with footprints on both sides of the wall.
Todd Bensman

Although Americans won’t see this part of the ongoing mass-migration crisis, runners and gotaways are expected to be the next big thing at the southern border in the aftermath of Title 42’s end.

“It’s going to be a dramatic increase, is what we’re expecting,” one senior Border Patrol official in the area told me. “We’re expecting huge increases in attempts to evade apprehension in the next couple of two or three weeks. There are too many holes in the dike and we’re running out of fingers.”

The vast majority of immigrants who cross the border these days turn themselves in immediately to Border Patrol for processing on a fast-tracked conveyor belt mainlining most right into American cities.

But those with US criminal histories or warrants find other ways.

“Those are all the scumbags,” as former ICE Commissioner Mark A. Morgan told me. “These are the people who know they’re not able to qualify” for Biden’s various entry programs.


TOD BENSMAN
Runners and gotaways are expected to be the next big thing at the southern border in the aftermath of Title 42’s end.

US Customs and Border Protection’s public affairs division gives us an idea of the kind of people who are caught evading detection: murderers, child rapists, violent gang members and sex offenders of all sorts.

Another expected driver of the anticipated runner-gotaway spike through El Paso Sector is the fact Border Patrol agents have been shifted off the front lines to process asylum seekers.

“Border Patrol is not on the line, and that’s just going to precipitate the number of gotaways,” Morgan said. “There’s no one on the line to counter them. We’re expecting to see a lot more people attempting to get away versus the trend of people just turning themselves in.”

About 1,200 agents have been shifted to the city of El Paso and elsewhere to help with new Title 8 “expedited removal” processes, the replacement regiment for Title 42, the Border Patrol official said.

Under this new scheme, in part, the administration claims it will quickly deport those who don’t wait their turn on the app the government set up to accept asylum claims, CBP One.


us border patrol
The vast majority of immigrants who cross the border these days turn themselves in immediately to Border Patrol.
Todd Bensman

But a great many immigrants in Reynosa, Juarez and Matamoros told me they will bolt for the Rio Grande immediately — and foreswear CBP One — at the first sign that Biden’s government lets in significant numbers of illegal crossers.

More of those who start to see actual tough outcomes can be expected to invest in cartel smuggling trips to get them into the American heartland.

All this is great news for the cartels, whose operatives work the fence holes. One young cartel “go-fer” in Juarez told me La Linea charges $5,000 a head to immigrants to go through the holes and will beat anyone who tries without paying.

Since the Biden administration’s policies started the mass-migration crisis on Inauguration Day, an estimated 1.7 million immigrants have gotten away, Morgan said.

In El Paso Sector, the number reached record highs of 30,000 a month in December and January before falling to 6,669 in March, as many immigrants decided to try out the new CBP One app to save on smuggling fees, according to data shared with me and interviews with immigrants.


In an aerial image taken on May 12, 2023, a border wall
About 1,200 agents have been shifted to the city of El Paso and elsewhere to help with new Title 8 “expedited removal” processes.
AFP via Getty Images/ Patrick T. Fallon

Migrants stand near the border wall after having crossed the U.S.-Mexico border
Migrants stand near the border wall after having crossed the US-Mexico border.
REUTERS/Jose Luis Gonzalez

But they didn’t like the increasing wait, and so they started hiring smugglers again. The gotaways well more than doubled to 17,433 in April as the migrants abandoned CBP One.

And that’s a severe undercount because, Morgan pointed out, there were fewer Border Patrol agents out there to stop them.

Because so few Border Patrol and National Guard soldiers work out there, some local sheriffs’ offices have to pitch in, like Hidalgo County Sheriff William Chadborn based in Lordsburg, New Mexico. He’s got some six or seven deputies working long nights and weekends to track down a camouflaged quarry that more often than not gets away.

“It’s pretty much a constant flow,” Sheriff Chadborn told me, so many, in fact that the cartels stopped bothering to move drugs any more.

“If they get captured, the cartel has lost nothing,” he explained. “They actually gain because if they get deported and want to come back, it’s another $8,000.”

The Biden administration hasn’t said a word about any of this yet. But in a sign that it fears the worst, last week it very quietly began reinforcing the cut-up fence along the Anapra San Jeronimo Highway where I found all the holes.

Todd Bensman is the author of “Overrun: How Joe Biden Unleashed the Greatest Border Crisis in U.S. History.”



This story originally appeared on NYPost

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