Illegal border crossings rise in South Texas as Congress debates immigration reform

Juan Mercado lives on a border property in McAllen, Texas. He says he owns a gun for protection because undocumented immigrants sneak across his property all the time.
CBS News

(CBS News) A few thousand protesters hit the streets in Los Angles Wednesday to demand citizenship for illegal immigrants.

The protesters hope to influence Congress, which is working on comprehensive immigration reform.

In a newCBS News/New York Times poll, we asked how many favor a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants if they meet certain conditions, including a waiting period.

In favor were 83 percent. Fourteen percent opposed.

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In Texas, just the debate itself is drawing new immigrants over the border.

Juan Mercado lives on border property his family has owned since the 1850s. Immigrants often sneak across there. But since January, the number has tripled.

"I'm being invaded by people who have no permission to be on my property," Mercado said. "By smugglers, by illegals."

This surveillance video recorded last month near McAllen, Texas, shows some 40 men, women and children crossing into the United States.

Border patrol agents in the Rio Grande sector tell CBS News apprehensions have risen from 2,800 in January to 7,500 in March.

Chris Cabrera
Chris Cabrera CBS News

Agent and union representative Chris Cabrera says some of the immigrants are from as far away as Brazil. The improving U.S. economy draws most, but Cabrera says many are under the impression that immigration reforms being discussed in Washington may allow them to remain.

"Once the first group gets across they call their family, they call their friends and let them know, 'hey the time is right, come on over,'" he said.

In McAllen recently, agents had to use their station's carport to process 800 people who'd been caught.

"The people in Washington think they have this idea that the border is safe, the border is secure," Cabrera said. "I think they need to come down here and take a look."

Members of Congress from border states insist immigration reforms be tied to adding more guards, cameras and drones. The border patrol is shifting agents from Laredo to the Rio Grande sector.

But Juan Mercado plans to rely on his own security system: A gun.

"I get a clip, and its ready to go," he said.

A personal line of defense on the front lines of a national debate.