When you step foot into the control room at the U.S. Border Patrol station in McAllen, Texas, the first thing that hits you is the smell.
Hovering somewhere between urine and unwashed humanity, the air is thick and hot. The sound inside the circular, glass-enclosed control room is like that of a beehive, humming with the noise of hundreds of voices mixed with buzzers and footsteps.
“This is where we do the processing,” the border patrol agent tells us.
The border patrol officer gestures to a series of white, cinderblock rooms that form a ring around the enclosed control area. Each small space is sealed by a thick gray door, which is kept locked until an officer motions for the switchboard operator to open it.
Beside each door, dozens of tanned faces press against glass windows, watching the movement on the open floor around them. Dozens more lie on the hard floor in the middle of the rooms, or on the wide benches attached to the walls.
Most of the visible faces belong to young children or teens; the adults are usually clustered in the back or tending to toddlers and infants.
The scene is devastating, and it’s only one of several windows into the illegal immigration crisis that’s sweeping across the Rio Grande Valley Sector of the U.S.-Mexico border. Since October 2013, more than 181,000 illegal immigrants have already crossed this 250-costal-mile area alone, and the McAllen, Texas station has been the hardest hit.
Border patrol officers are doing the best they can, but they simply aren’t equipped to handle the masses that have flooded their facilities.