GRANJENO, Texas — As the sun rose over the Rio Grande River, patrolling U.S. border agents found and detained five Colombian migrants who had just crossed the river into Texas and came upon a 25-foot-high border wall.

One of those captured by Border Patrol, a 30-year-old Colombian, said he came to the United States as a «last resort» because «he couldn’t live anymore.»

He said he was blackmailed and his wife threatened during their long journey north.

On Thursday morning, it became one of more than 2,000 apprehensions that the Rio Grande Valley sector of southeast Texas averages each day, according to Customs and Border Protection officials.

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas visited border agents in the valley Thursday ahead of the lifting of the covid ban known as Title 42, which has seen migrants return to Mexico more than 2.5 million times since it was imposed in March 2020.

Border agents here are bracing for a massive increase when Title 42 ends on May 11. But here and in many other sections of the border, the rise has already begun.

Agents in the Rio Grande Valley said they are already seeing an increase in migration because smuggling organizations brought migrants to northern Mexico before the expected Title 42 increase and are now beginning to move them to the US for release. space.

Most of the migrants Border Patrol has encountered recently, as observed by NBC News and other media organizations, had never heard of Title 42 but had paid a smuggler who told them when to cross.

A Border Patrol official said the processing centers in the Rio Grande sector are technically full, but can still comfortably accommodate immigrants entering before they are returned under Title 42, detained by the Immigration and Enforcement Service. Customs or released at local shelters.

The concern, the Border Patrol official said, is how long it will take to process migrants when Title 42 disappears. Instead of one agent processing and sending 40 migrants back to Mexico under Title 42 in five minutes, it will take an agent 30 minutes to an hour to process a single migrant and determine where they go next, the official said.

That slowdown could result in backups at Border Patrol stations and a loss of manpower from border agents in the area, the official said.

In Brownsville, Texas, thousands of migrants a day cross a defunct golf course. To avoid the chaos that occurred during a surge in Del Rio, Texas, in September 2021, Border Patrol has been rapidly processing migrants and ICE has been rapidly transferring them out of the area by bus.

A man from Mexico along with a Mexican woman and two men from El Salvador stand by the border wall after being apprehended by Border Patrol on May 4, 2023.
A man from Mexico, a Mexican woman and two men from El Salvador stand by a border wall after being detained by Border Patrol on Thursday. nbc news

As Mayorkas tours the Rio Grande Valley, Department of Homeland Security officials have been touting the sector’s recent success in expeditiously processing immigrants. But the number of immigrants is growing: the sector is now the third busiest sector for the year to date. In El Paso, the busiest sector in the past year, shelter operators and local officials estimate that the more than 1,000 migrants they were unable to accommodate are now sleeping on the streets.

Mayorkas and border officials have also touted technological advances in finding and processing migrants. Since fiscal year 2022, the Biden administration has added 81 new autonomous watchtowers that use artificial intelligence technology to track movement and tell the difference between a person and a deer crossing the brush.

DHS has increased its surveillance technology, but so have human smugglers. As Border Patrol agents advanced across the Rio Grande River under the Anzalduas International Bridge, which connects Mexico to McAllen, Texas, they saw a drone hovering above them, tracking their movements. Border Patrol agents said it was likely operated by a human smuggler who was determining the best way to get a group of migrants across without detection.

didi martinez contributed.