Miami Herald (Sunday)



flew through nearby woods. The garrison town establishe­d in the 1840s was once dominated by outlaws and renegades including the gunslinger John King Fisher. Today it is home to an ambitious and growing binational community largely composed of Mexican Americans and members of the traditiona­l Kickapoo tribe of Texas — all eager to get back to normal life.

Eagle Pass is the largest city in Maverick County, with nearly 30,000 residents, but it is isolated from most other U.S. border cities. The nearest municipali­ty is Piedras Negras in Mexico, within eyesight across the river. Their histories and fortunes are tied together. Mexicans who cross legally make up nearly half of Eagle Pass’s workforce; many U.S. residents also cross the river to work. While local government and the school district have been Eagle Pass’s biggest employers historical­ly, residents are increasing­ly landing jobs with the Border Patrol and large manufactur­ers. Still, nearly a quarter of the population — about twice the Texas average — lives in poverty.

Unpreceden­ted migration has made this border county’s 74 miles of riverfront the scene of an unfolding human and constituti­onal drama. The huge number of migrants crossing the river and the crackdown designed to stop that flow have attracted the attention of everyone from immigrant rights activists to racist militias curious to see whether the federal supremacy that withstood a civil war will survive once more.

The city’s restaurant­s are full of out-of-towners, and hotel rooms are sold out. The state resurrecte­d Camp Charlie, a base on the city’s outskirts, to house hundreds of Texas Army National Guard soldiers. Yards away, U.S. Customs and Border Protection erected a tent city in 2022 to relieve overflow at its two stations processing

migrants. The local high school’s cross-country team can no longer use Shelby Park trails, but soldiers allowed the golf team to practice recently while two Venezuelan migrants shivered behind wire on the riverbank asking other soldiers for help.

“We didn’t expect any of this,” said migrant Kevin Rolando Gómez, 25, pointing to the wire and barriers. “We just need help.”

It’s been nearly two years since Abbott and other Republican governors began traveling to this Democratic-voting Tejano city for news conference­s denouncing “open borders” and unveiling plans to deploy Texas troops and drop river buoys. The state’s border with Mexico is an internatio­nal boundary under the jurisdicti­on of federal authoritie­s, but Abbott and his allies contend that they have the right to intervene because the Biden administra­tion hasn’t done enough to stanch the record number of migrants trying to enter Texas illegally in recent months.

Abbott did not respond to a request for comment

on the situation in Eagle Pass.

“It’s the most expensive political campaign paid for by the taxpayers,” said a chuckling Pepe Aranda, a local real estate agent and former county elected official.

But even as residents criticize Abbott’s push, they will grumble about the resources that migration has drained from public coffers. Local fire and police are sometimes so busy handling calls at the river that ambulances and personnel are not available for residents. Patients have had to wait for a bed at the hospital because injured or sick migrants occupy all 18 of them.

“We cannot afford thousands of people coming through our community,” said Maverick’s county attorney, Jaime Iracheta, who signed 40 invoices recently to reimburse local officials who handled the remains of migrants.

As in many communitie­s along the border, locals here hold views on immigratio­n that are as complicate­d as the stories of how their families became fronterizo­s, or borderland­ers. Both the federal and state government­s,

said residents and elected leaders, routinely leave them out of the conversati­on.

“For us, it becomes frustratin­g,” said Jaime Rodríguez, who runs his family’s nearly 85-yearold grocery store downtown. “Living here on the border, we have people making decisions for us who aren’t from here and don’t know how we live our lives.”

The transforma­tion of the city’s riverbank into a militarize­d zone is harmful, residents said. Soldiers changed the river’s flow when they bulldozed river islands to keep migrants from gathering on them and pushed the land toward Texas. The environmen­tal costs and the amount of erosion are still not known.

“They’re destroying the river and everything I believe in,” said Jessie Fuentes, who owns a kayaking and canoe business but is nervous about taking customers out because of all the razor wire that has slipped beneath the river’s surface. “I can’t believe this is America.”

But the soldiers and state troopers who unspool the ugly razor wire, more often used for prisons and battlefiel­ds, are welcomed by some as long as they rent, eat and buy in the local economy.

The state takeover of Shelby Park this month was unexpected and unwarrante­d, city officials have said. But the Eagle Pass City Council — despite the prospect of losing close to $1 million in city revenue if park events are canceled — voted that legal remedies were too expensive. Residents say their leaders are reluctant to resist the governor after the state gave the city and county millions in grants through Operation Lone Star, Abbott’s border security initiative. The mayor and City Council members declined requests for interviews.

Despite the fearmonger­ing of some politician­s, crime rates have not gone up. But trauma is proliferat­ing.

The militarize­d response to migration “is damaging everyone it touches,” said Valeria Wheeler, who runs the lone nongovernm­ental organizati­on in the county assisting migrants after they are released from federal custody. “I can’t believe how far this has gone.”

 ?? ANGELA PIAZZA Corpus Christi Caller-Times/USA TODAY NETWORK ?? Shelby Park, which abuts the Rio Grande, is used as a staging area for Operation Loan Star in Eagle Pass, Tex., on July 21, 2023.
ANGELA PIAZZA Corpus Christi Caller-Times/USA TODAY NETWORK Shelby Park, which abuts the Rio Grande, is used as a staging area for Operation Loan Star in Eagle Pass, Tex., on July 21, 2023.

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