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While illegal crossings drop along U.S. border, migrants in Mexico grow desperate

Inside conditions at the southern border
Inside the harsh conditions facing migrants at the southern border 06:47

Ciudad Juárez, Mexico — Desperate and exhausted, the migrants gathered around a tree that offered them some shade from the unforgiving sun.

They had traveled from countries throughout Latin America, including Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Peru and Venezuela. Some of them were parents traveling with small children, including toddlers. Others were young men. Some of the teenagers appeared to be unaccompanied minors traveling without their parents.

All of them shared a common goal: entering the U.S., which was just a few yards away. But standing in their way were miles of razor wire and other barriers erected by the state of Texas at the direction of Gov. Greg Abbott to deter migrants from crossing into the U.S. illegally.

"They're trying to kill us," one of the migrant men said in Spanish, showing CBS News cameras how sharp the wire could be.

Barbed wire that has been installed by Texas along the U.S.-Mexico border in El Paso as seen on Monday, April 29, 2024.
Barbed wire that has been installed by Texas along the U.S.-Mexico border in El Paso as seen on Monday, April 29, 2024. Suvro Banerji / CBS News

Some said they had tried to get past the barriers several times to no avail. At one point, the migrants huddled around the cameras to describe the austere conditions in the makeshift camp they had set up near the U.S. border with tents and blankets.

They said they had been sleeping near that tree for days, some as long as two weeks, braving the elements for a chance to enter the U.S. "We don't have food. We don't have water," one Venezuelan woman carrying a small child said in Spanish.

Rene, a migrant from Honduras, said he had been sleeping outside for 15 days, after traveling to Mexico with his young daughters, ages 3 and 9. He pointed to an area filled with brushes where they slept, using blankets to shield themselves from the cold temperatures at night and in the morning.

"I don't sleep the entire night," Rene said in Spanish, noting he closes his eyes only intermittently to make sure his daughters are OK.

Illegal crossings fall

Illegal crossings along the U.S. southern border have dropped by more than 40% this year since soaring to record levels in December. In April, U.S. Border Patrol recorded roughly 129,000 unlawful crossings, the second consecutive monthly drop, according to preliminary government data obtained by CBS News. The pattern has defied historical trends — migration usually spikes in the spring.

Still, tens of thousands of migrants are estimated to be waiting in Mexico, in places like Ciudad Juárez where shelter space is limited and the conditions are sometimes dire.

Many in Mexico are waiting to secure an appointment to enter the U.S. at an official port of entry through a Biden administration program powered by a smartphone app known as CBP One. But the process is capped at roughly 1,500 spots each day. And the demand in Mexico is far higher.

Facing wait-times that often extend for months, some migrants, like the ones in the makeshift encampment, grow desperate and decide to try to cross into the U.S. illegally. But they first have to make it past the Texas barriers to surrender to federal Border Patrol agents, the initial step in the years-long asylum process.

Migrants waiting to enter the U.S. huddle under a tree in Ciudad Juárez on Tuesday, April 30, 2024.
Migrants waiting to enter the U.S. huddle under a tree in Ciudad Juárez on Tuesday, April 30, 2024. Suvro Banerji / CBS News

Karina Breceda, who oversees migrant shelters in Ciudad Juárez and El Paso, called the barricades set up by Texas "inhumane," noting she has helped some migrants, including children, who were cut by the razor wire. 

"The U.S. is the greatest country in the world," Breceda said. "We're able to have, I think, policy that treats this situation with dignity."

But on the U.S. side of the border, Texas Department of Public Safety Sergeant Eliot Torres said the wire is supposed to serve as a "sign" warning migrants not to enter the U.S. between official ports of entry, which is a federal crime. Texas has also sought to make the act a state crime through a law known as SB4, but federal courts have blocked the measure at the request of the Biden administration. 

"The inhumane part is in … the optic, right?" Torres said near a stretch of the border near El Paso that Texas has fortified with razor wire and additional fencing. "That's what people perceive it to be."

Torres acknowledged migrants could be cut by the wire. Asked if that's part of the deterrence objective, he said, "Yes." But Torres noted that Texas officials provide medical aid to migrants who sustain injuries or who are otherwise in distress.

"We're here protecting our border, but also we're not going to … just let somebody stand there, have an injury," Torres said.

Abbott and other Texas officials have credited their actions — from the razor wire, to arrests of migrants on state trespassing charges — for the marked decline in migrant crossings in recent months, which has been more acute in the Lone Star State than in Arizona and California.

But federal officials believe the main catalyst is an aggressive crackdown on U.S.-bound migrants by Mexican officials, who have ramped up efforts to stop migrants from boarding trains and buses that would take them closer to the American border. They're also deporting some migrants to southern Mexico.

Still, some migrants like Rene have made it to northern Mexico despite the crackdown, and are willing to wait indefinitely for a chance to make it to the U.S.

"We came searching for the American dream," he said.

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