The U.S. Border Patrol has never seen a year like it. In El Paso, Texas alone, 180,000 apprehensions at the border — six times more than a year ago. And in the violent city of Juarez, Mexico, thousands of migrants from all over wait for word on asylum hearings. It is many miles from the prairie to the border, but recently a group from Fargo-Moorhead traveled to the wall to meet with border agents and the migrants trying to get across.

In WDAY's latest documentary, "A River Becomes a Wall," Reporter Kevin Wallevand and Photographer Andrew Nelson travel with that group to bring back an inside look at what is happening there. "A River Becomes a Wall" airs Thursday, Nov. 28, at 6:30 p.m. on WDAY TV and will be featured on select Forum Communications Co. media sites.

EL PASO, Texas — As the sun comes up over Mexico on a crisp, cool desert morning, the Texas town of El Paso awakens along the border. A wall that separates this town from Juarez, Mexico, has brought visitors from the north. Eastern North Dakota Synod Bishop Terry Brandt, along with area Lutheran ministers who are here to learn more about the border, meeting with border patrol agents, who walk them through what has been a tumultuous year. U.S. Border Patrol Agent Sara Cabrera was on her morning shift.

US Border Patrol Agent Sara Cabrera on patrol along the border that separates Juarez, Mexico and El Paso, Texas. Border patrol agents have recently seen an influx of people trying to cross the border. Photo / Andrew Nelson WDAY
US Border Patrol Agent Sara Cabrera on patrol along the border that separates Juarez, Mexico and El Paso, Texas. Border patrol agents have recently seen an influx of people trying to cross the border. Photo / Andrew Nelson WDAY

"If you see someone walking from the other side of the river and you see them coming in, that's going to be your obvious ones," said Cabrera, as she patrolled the canals, the wall, the dusty trail of dirt that separates Juarez from El Paso.

"This is the river, right there," she said, pointing out the landscape "And that's Mexico. Our biggest day was 2,200 in one day," said Cabrera of the number of people apprehended at that El Paso location. "Twenty-two hundred in one day, and you add 1,500 from the day before and 1,700 from previous day."

To highlight the increase, in 2018, the El Paso sector of Border Patrol apprehended 31,000 people for the year. This past May, they apprehended 38,000 for the month.

On this day, riding with Agent Cabrera, there was an all too familiar sight.

"We have an apprehension," she said, getting out of her vehicle to begin speaking Spanish to a lone woman holding a baby.

A woman named Katy is detained by border patrol with her 7-month-old son, Owen.  They are from Honduras and made the trek to the United States through water and mud.  Even in the custody of US agents, their fate is uncertain. Photo / Andrew Nelson WDAY
A woman named Katy is detained by border patrol with her 7-month-old son, Owen. They are from Honduras and made the trek to the United States through water and mud. Even in the custody of US agents, their fate is uncertain. Photo / Andrew Nelson WDAY

"They are from the country of Honduras," said Cabrera, holding the documents belonging to the mother and her bright-eyed child. "They are here illegally."

A single-mom, Katy and her 7-month-old son, Owen from Honduras, were walking through water and mud to give themselves up to the agent.

"She says there is no employment in her country, and she needs to provide for her child," said Cabrera, interpreting the woman's answers to her questions.

It no doubt has been dangerous for Katy and her baby Owen. The weekend when the group from Fargo-Moorhead were visiting, there were 22 murders in Juarez, Mexico.

"We are human beings, and how are we going to protect our country if we don't take them into custody?" said Cabrera. "We have to investigate and check out criminal history so we know who we are letting in and out."

Baby Owen just sat and giggled, quite unaware of the desperation. His mother quietly wept at the hopelessness life had become.

"A lot of people are like, 'Border Patrol is bad,' " said Cabrera. "No, you can see how they are waiting for us because they are safe, now they are in safe hands."

The group of ELCA pastors and others from Fargo-Moorhead listened to the Border Patrol, mindful of their work in an area of the country where this battle is brewing for those wanting to come to America when so many want them out.

Members of Evangelical Lutheran Church in America from Fargo-Moorhead traveled to El Paso, Texas to help with the humanitarian dilemma developing along the US border. Here they listened to border agents as they discuss how most people trying to cross are not criminals. Photo / Andrew Nelson WDAY
Members of Evangelical Lutheran Church in America from Fargo-Moorhead traveled to El Paso, Texas to help with the humanitarian dilemma developing along the US border. Here they listened to border agents as they discuss how most people trying to cross are not criminals. Photo / Andrew Nelson WDAY

"We want them to know that it is not just bad people coming in, we do have good people coming in for the job," said Cabrera. "They are fleeing their country. If they don't work, they don't eat."

"I think what we heard today confirms that most of the people coming to the border are those who are seeking a better life or those who are running for their lives," said Bishop Terry Brandt "And it is rare they see drugs coming through the border, so I think it is different perception than what we hear."

"If I can take away one thing from it, is what they said at the end ... 'We are human,' that 'We are not going to be perfect,' " said Pastor Austin English, another ELCA pastor out of Oakes, N.D., talking about the border patrol agents. "I admire that, the humbleness of saying I'm not always going to get it all right, but looking at the best interest of all families and people, and that we allow them a little grace."

On WDAY News at 10 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 26, the Fargo-Moorhead group meets with migrants who just tried to cross the border.