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‘Suspicious travelers’ from China, Russia & the Middle East among those caught by El Paso border agents

EL PASO, Texas -- It has been a record setting year for the U.S. Border Patrol. From the number of unaccompanied children making the trek to the southern border, to the number of single adults apprehended, Border Patrol agents have had one of their busiest years in recent memory.

A new trend has the agency concerned. It is not just the number of single adults attempting to cross the border, it’s the fact that many of them don’t speak English or Spanish. They're traveling thousands of miles across the Atlantic to get to the U.S.

Border Patrol data shows encounters and apprehensions are soaring for undocumented migrants from countries outside Latin America - including China, Russia and the Middle East. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security defines these groups as "individuals with suspicious travel patterns who may pose a national security risk.”

One of the biggest challenges for Border Patrol agents is communicating with migrants, especially if they are from a "special interest" country.

"Just through the phone, we will use Google translate or any other translating services,” Border Patrol Agent Carlos Rivera explained.

This fiscal year, the El Paso sector has registered more than 60,000 encounters of migrants of so-called special interest countries. Last year, it was 14,000. Agents have seen people this year from 54 different countries in the El Paso sector.

Agents tell ABC-7 the biggest difference this year from years past is that many of the migrants apprehended at the border are not seeking asylum.

"Of course the difference from 2019 to now, in 2019 the majority of the migrants that we encountered were seeking asylum. But now there is something right off the bat that tells us 'no' - they were not going to seek asylum when they have a set of bolt cutters and they were trying to breach the fence to reach the United States,” Rivera said.

Making encounters more dangerous is that language barrier, especially when a migrant is hurt. Given that many of these migrants are not giving themselves up for asylum, some get in perilous danger when they try to climb over the wall that at times soars past 20-feet.

"It is hard already to get that person to calm down being an English or Spanish speaker, so again that language barrier when you are trying to our EMTs administer an IV and that person doesn't know why they are getting an IV or what is going to happen to them because it is new to them, yes that language barrier presents risks and dangers and changes the situation for that rescue," Rivera explained.

The language barrier also creates a different immigration process for the migrants. Unlike migrants from Latin America who face expulsion under Title 42, a pandemic-era policy to keep Covid-19 at bay, migrants from "special interest" countries face a different legal process.

The fact that most of these groups do not speak English means that these individuals cannot even get their Miranda rights read to them at the scene. Instead, the Border Patrol must wait to get to the central processing center to begin their legal process, and decide what their future in this country holds.

“When it comes to 'special interest' countries with people that might present more of a risk to the people of the United States, we get ahold of other agencies to fully evaluate the situation and fully evaluate why this person is here and then put that person on the appropriate immigration pathway or transfer custody to another agency that may be wanting that person,” Rivera said.

The groups are entitled to an interpreter to help them understand the details of their immigration case. Border Patrol tells ABC-7 they continue to train for different situations involving migrants, including those that have a language barrier.

JC Navarrete

El Paso native JC Navarrete co-anchors ABC-7’s weekend newscasts and reports during the week.

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