MISSION, Texas (AP) — Deputy Rudy Trevino was patrolling a park along the Texas-Mexico border when he spied movement in the darkness. Swinging his spotlight toward the motion revealed 14 women and children who had just sneaked across the Rio Grande in a small boat.
The youngest, a 14-month-old boy from Guatemala, lay quietly in a baby carrier hung from his mother's chest. The oldest, a 38-year-old woman from El Salvador, cried with her head in her hands, her 7-year-old daughter leaning against her.
In minutes, they were loaded into a Border Patrol van and whisked away — a typical encounter here in the 5-mile slice of deep South Texas that has become the epicenter of the recent surge in illegal immigration.
An Associated Press reporter recently spent several days observing the human drama that unfolds daily across this arid landscape that bristles with cameras, lookout towers and heavily armed patrols.
Most of the impoverished immigrants hail from Central America, and many come with children. They often turn themselves over to authorities immediately after crossing the river, following the advice of smugglers, friends and relatives, who tell them they will eventually be released and allowed to continue to their destination.
For parents with young children, that has largely been true because the U.S. has only one long-term family detention facility in Pennsylvania, and it's full. Most parents are handed notices to appear at the immigration office closest to their destination and dropped off at bus stations across the Southwest.
Children arriving without their parents are transferred to custody of the Health and Human Services Department, which tries to reunite them with family members in the U.S.
Both groups have often been allowed to remain in the U.S. while their immigration cases move forward, a process that can sometimes take years.