MISSION, Texas (AP) - The chairman of the House Homeland Security committee said Tuesday in South Texas that the U.S. Border Patrol's resources in the area are "woefully inadequate."
U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, made the comments after cruising the Rio Grande with Border Patrol and Texas Department of Public Safety officials in Mission.
McCaul's House bill calling for a plan to secure the border is expected to be the first of several immigration-related bills taken up after the chamber's August recess. McCaul is also leading a group of congressmen along the border, stopping this weekend in California and Arizona. Accompanying McCaul on Tuesday were U.S. Reps. Kevin Yoder, R-Kansas, and Leonard Lance, R-New Jersey.
The stakes of immigration reform were made evident to the group when they encountered a body floating in the Rio Grande on Tuesday.
"My colleagues and I saw firsthand the tragedies of this border and the loss of life when we saw a body floating just a few minutes ago on this river," McCaul said. "And that is a sad fact of this border."
Border Patrol spokesman Daniel Tirado said the body was recovered later by the Mission Fire Department.
McCaul's bill is a stark contrast to the comprehensive immigration reform bill that passed the Senate. The House has rejected that and is instead taking up individual components that so far do not include a path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million people living in the country illegally.
His measure describes a list of metrics that homeland security officials would have to report to Congress, which would be used to determine what sort of resources work and what is needed where.
"In this sector, it's woefully inadequate," McCaul said. "This sector probably needs more resources than any on the U.S.-Mexico border."
McCaul said Tuesday that he expects his bill to be the first the full House takes up.
"Fencing alone is not going to solve this problem, it's got to be a comprehensive strategy, a variety of assets whether they be fixed towers, mobile towers, (Department of Defense) assets from Afghanistan, aviation assets to see on the ground what's happening," McCaul said. "Only by doing that can we really calculate with metrics if we're being successful and if we're achieving results."
While arrests of immigrants crossing the border illegally had fallen for several years, the number of arrests has surged in the southernmost tip of Texas - more than 120,000 since Oct. 1, an increase of more than 50 percent on the same period last year, Tirado said. Most of that growth has come from what the Border Patrol terms "other-than-Mexicans," primarily Central American immigrants who take the more direct route from their countries into the U.S.
The sector is about to see a bump in personnel. On Monday, a first group of about 50 trainees left for the Border Patrol academy in New Mexico, Tirado said. Every week for the next six weeks, a similarly sized class will leave for training, and a new group of academy graduates is expected to return to the sector later this month, he said.
Mission interim Police Chief Robert Dominguez said later Tuesday that the body recovered from the river was a man carrying identification from Honduras. Dominguez said his investigators would contact the Honduran consulate to confirm the identity; an autopsy was scheduled for Wednesday.
Brooks County sheriff's Chief Deputy Benny Martinez, who attended McCaul's visit Tuesday, said any help is appreciated. His rural county about an hour north of the border has been stretched in recent years by the number of bodies found on its arid ranches.
He said he hoped a drop in the number of bodies found in the county in July as compared to last year was a sign the situation might improve.
Martinez said 52 bodies had been recovered in his county since Jan. 1. A record 129 bodies were recovered in the county in all of 2012.
"Anything that's going to deter, save lives is welcome," he said.