With the large surge of Central American families and unaccompanied children arriving in El Paso in the last year, officials with the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol have exceeded their capacity on numerous occasions.
In order to respond to the large number of families and unaccompanied children crossing illegally along the U.S./Mexico Border between Texas and New Mexico, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection opened two facilities, which are ready for use immediately.
Members of the media were given a tour of the facilities on Thursday.
One of the facilities is located in Northeast El Paso, behind the main headquarters of the El Paso sector, and the second is located in Donna, Texas which is near McAllen.
According to the U.S. Border Patrol, apprehensions for unauthorized immigrants in the El Paso sector have increased by more than 300 percent.
Additional complications occur when the CBP’s current holding facilities are primarily meant for unaccompanied men, not family units.
This has led to national attention and criticism regarding how and where CBP temporarily holds the Central American immigrants while they wait to be turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, the Department of Homeland Security if they are unaccompanied minors or Non-Governmental Organizations such as nonprofits such as churches and the Annunciation House of El Paso.
“There are not enough agents on the line,” Ramiro Cordero, Border Patrol Agent and Special Operations Supervisor said. “The agents are now processing aliens, processing families. Escorting individuals to hospitals, transporting, feeding, changing diapers – that is not the job of a Border Patrol agent. So, we are moving on – so we are building facilities such as what you see behind me to alleviate and help the process flow a little bit smoother and quicker.”
The facilities – known as “soft-sided temporary” facilities – are provided by Deployed Resources LLC of Rome, New York, according to the CBP. They are currently contracted for a cost of $36.9 million for a four-month base period; with an additional four months if needed.
Cordero said when an individual is taken to the facility, they will enter the small support soft-sided building first – which is approximately 12,300 square feet. There they will enter, and be medically screened upon arrival.
From there, they can use the shower facilities, which contain 32 stalls; which are divided into two separate sections for men and women.
If a family unit arrives and they need to bathe their children, CBP will not get involved in the process, but will allow the parent to decide how the child should be bathed.
Then they will be issued bracelets which will have designated colors. The colors will direct them to the temporary holding facility.
The holding facility is broken up into 4 sections and each section can hold up to 125 individuals.
Each section, or pod, contains 8 porta-potty toilets, with the ventilation leading outside. The toilets are going to be cleaned daily by outside contracted companies. Additionally, each facility has 4-hand washing stations; and 125 vinyl covered sleeping pads as well.
In the center of each pod stands a 7-foot guard tower which will be staffed 24-7.
Each pod will contain at least 1 medical technician, a doctor and a medical professional who will either be contracted or who will be a certified EMT or Medically licensed CBP officer or U.S. Coast Guard member.
The pods are air conditioned and each pod will have video surveillance. There are cameras on each corner of the pods.
There is also a laundry trailer with 40 washers and dryers; storage containers for detainee property; two 1,200 KVA generators for electrical services; and a refrigerated trailer for food storage and preparation.
According to the CBP agents, the El Paso sector alone has apprehended 94,000 individuals since October 1 of last year; compared to 13,000 individuals in the previous year during the same time frame. That’s an average of about 580 apprehensions a day Cordero said.
Roger Maier, spokesperson for the U.S. CBP, said on average they are processing 600 to 850 individuals per day.
On Wednesday alone, Border Patrol agents took custody of 243 immigranats, made up of family groups with small children and unaccompanied juveniles. This group was picked up at around 1:30 a.m. near the Antelope Wells port of entry in New Mexico.
Just 40 minutes later agents apprehended another group of 219 people at the border wall near downtown El Paso. Then on Thursday morning another 209 immigrants were apprehended yet again at Antelope Wells.
These facilities, Cordero said, will help. And, ideally – Maier said – an individual should be turned over to the appropriate agency within 72 hours.
“This is something we are doing because we have gotten to capacity,” Cordero said. “We have already exceeded our capacity and we need to have this in place so we can have people in humane places and we can transfer them in and out of the process. We at the border patrol are the first interaction – the first piece of the puzzle – our job is to enforce the law and our job is to process them and turn these individuals to someone else – in this case ICE enforcement removal operations.”
While the facility is currently meant to house family units, Cordero added that this could change in the future – depending on the situation and the circumstances.
Earlier this year the CPB and the U.S. General Services Administration had proposed to build a facility that would house as many as 800 people, which according to media reports, could have been the Hoover Manufacturing Facility.
But a group of business leaders in El Paso launched a campaign against the move under a Change.org petition, Action El Paso, asking the federal government to include city leaders in the conversation.
According to the petition business leaders are asking the following be adhered to before the GSA and CBP move forward with constructing the facility:
The community must be allowed to provide input on where the facility will be built. The federal government cannot come in and uproot El Pasoans’ quality of life, regional economy, and community cohesion for its own gains.
The community must have assurances regarding how this center will be staffed. We have seen too many instances where inadequate staffing has resulted in neglect and mistreatment of children and families.
The community must have assurances regarding how the health and well-being of families held in the processing center will be prioritized. It is a travesty that families are denied fundamental rights and basic dignities, such as a bed and access to health services, because processing facilities have been so poorly planned.
When asked about this, Maier said he wasn’t sure what the status of the facility was at the moment.
“That was a centralized processing center that we were looking to stand up – but that’s taking longer than expected for a number of reasons – so this (temporary soft sided shelter) is our quick response to that. But that’s still in the works – yes.”
Author: Alex Hinojosa | Gallery: Andres ‘Ace’ Acosta – Chief Photographer – El Paso Herald Post
WASHINGTON— Representatives Henry Cuellar (TX-28) and Veronica Escobar (TX-16) introduced H.R. 287, a resolution condemning President Trump’s recent threat to shut down the United States-Mexico border.
“Any potential closure of the border would cause extensive economic harm to U.S. markets and sever the bilateral trade relationship between the two countries,” the Reps shared via a Thursday morning news release.
Original co-sponsors of this resolution included Representatives Filemon Vela (TX-34), Vicente Gonzalez (TX-15), and Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18).
Every day, both the U.S. and Mexico work cooperatively to secure the shared border and facilitate the efficient flow of goods and tourism, while curtailing the illicit flow of drugs, people, arms, and cash at ports of entry.
These operations serve as the backbone of bilateral interconnectedness— closing down any one of the ports of entry, let alone the whole border, would have a myriad of unintended and irreparable economic, diplomatic, cultural, and humanitarian consequences.
Congressman Henry Cuellar said,“Shutting down the border would have disastrous consequences for both the U.S. and Mexico. The U.S. depends on Mexico for 60% of its produce, meaning that many Americans look to Mexico for access to healthy, affordable fruits and vegetables.
Additionally, tourism between the two countries relies heavily upon the smooth operation of border infrastructure at ports of entry. In 2016 alone, spending by Mexican tourists in the U.S. totaled $20.3 billion. Furthermore, nearly five million U.S. jobs depend on trade with Mexico, making it crucial to these domestic workers that the border remain open.”
He continued, “This resolution sends a clear message that we strongly oppose closing the U.S.-Mexico border. Shutting down the entire border would not only severely disrupt the flow of goods, but it would also hamper tourism and create economic chaos for both economies. We will continue to fight any executive action that stands to harm our economy and trade relations.”
“President Trump’s reckless behavior is a true national crisis. Shutting down the border will absolutely devastate our economy; continuing to withhold aid to Central America will only increase the number of refugees at our doorstep; and, the cruelty of his approach to asylum-seeking families in pursuit of the American Dream is a violation of human rights and only makes a challenge much worse,” said Congresswoman Veronica Escobar.
“This resolution demonstrates that the American people and the U.S. House of Representatives will strongly stand against any attempts to close our southern border, sabotage our efforts to address the root causes of migration, and strip away due process and humane treatment for those seeking a better life.”
WASHINGTON — Backing a resolution spearheaded by U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, the U.S. Senate voted Thursday to block President Donald Trump’s emergency declaration to build a wall along the U.S-Mexico border.
Several Republicans joined their Democratic colleagues in support of the measure, but Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz of Texas both voted against the resolution —which Trumphas vowed to veto. On Wednesday night, Cruz joined a pair of his colleagues and went to the White House to try to work out a deal with the president, The Washington Post reported. But Trump reiterated his plans for a veto Thursday.
“When your negotiating partners refuse to take a seat at the table, normal goes out the window,” Cornyn said during Thursday’s floor debate. “Our colleagues across the aisle left the president with few options to fund what he believed were so important for the nation’s security, and that’s what led us to this situation.”
Last month, Trump declared a national emergency at the U.S.-Mexico border, saying billions of dollars in additional funding was needed to build more barriers. After that declaration,the Democratic-led House endorsed Castro’s resolution in a vote primarily split along party lines. The sole Texas Republican member of the House to vote for the resolution was Rep. Will Hurd, R-Helotes, who has repeatedly denounced a border wall as the “most expensive and least effective” way to handle border security.His district includes more of the Mexican border than any other district. In authoring the legislation, Castro said it was needed as a safeguard for the separation of powers among the branches of the federal government. As senators debated the resolution Thursday, Castro watched from the back of the upper chamber.
After the Senate’s vote, Castro faulted Cornyn and Cruz. “This was not an emergency,” he said. “The senators have not been listening to the people or the elected officials who live on the border. They’ve been ignoring them for a long time.”
In a statement, Cruz said the vote was difficult and that he shared his colleagues’ concerns about the emergency powers that Congress has given the president over the last half-century. But he said that the vote was ultimately about addressing a crisis at the border.
“We cannot end this emergency without securing our southern border, and we cannot secure our border without building a wall,” Cruz said.
Although Republicans hold the majority in the Senate, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky couldn’t stop Thursday’s floor vote on the resolution because it was designated as a privileged measure.
On Tuesday, the Catholic Diocese sent out a call for volunteers and donations for the Diocesan Migrant Center located at the Diocese of El Paso’s Catholic Pastoral Center.
The migrant center is currently seeing between 80-100 migrant refugees daily. Once refugees arrive at the facility, they are given a change of clothes, the ability to shower, 3 meals a day, and a care package of snacks and necessary needs for travel to their destination.
Volunteers assist in the caring for the migrant refugees on site and with rides to the airport or the bus station. The diocese is also looking for volunteers to assist in providing meals to refugees.
Volunteers can send name, number and times available to volunteer to firstname.lastname@example.org or call the Ofﬁce of the Chancery at 915-872-8407.
In addition to the need for on site volunteers, the diocese is also in need of donations.
Goods Needed for Donation
FOOD ITEMS Bottled Water Drinks (that are easy to distribute)-Capri Sun, Juice box Granola Bar Fruit Cereal and Milk Small packaged snacks (Cookies, crackers, trail mix, chips) Sliced bread Peanut Butter and Jelly Instant Tea or Lemonade Mix
KITCHEN ITEMS 8 oz. cups Forks Knives Spoons 9 inch plates Small bowls Napkins Large roll aluminum Foil Sandwich size Ziploc bags Quarter gallon Ziploc bags One gallon Ziploc bags
MISCELLANEOUS Car Seats Linen (Twin sheets, pillows, pillow cases and blankets) Towels
CLOTHING Brand new Underwear, for Men, Women and Children (Mostly small and medium size needed) Brand New pairs of socks, for Men, Women and Children Tennis Shoes (from 2-year-old to adults) Jeans (Denim) for Men, Women and Children Blouses Shirts for Men Coats Sweaters Gloves Beanies
Cleaning Supplies Clorox Wipes Clorox Pinesol Dish Soap Laundry Detergent Fabuloso or floor cleaner Lyson Spray Gloves for Handling Food
According to Herald Post Reporter Andra Litton, shortly after 2 p.m. Monday Afternoon, Immigration and Customs Enforcement dropped off an unknown number of migrants at the Downtown El Paso Greyhound Bus Station.
Officials with Annunciation House had expected another 200 migrants tonight, however the group dropped off at the bus station was not included in that total.
For those residents wishing to help, Annunciation House, has been the organization at the forefront of helping the migrants, with shelter, food and assistance in getting to their final destination. To donate, visit their website
Reporter Andra Litton spoke with Rep. Beto O’Rourke and Dylan Corbett w/Hope Border Institute in Downtown El Paso
**This is a developing story and will be updated as information becomes available** PREVIOUS STORIES BELOW
**story update from 1:35p
Via a Facebook post Monday afternoon, Ruben Garcia with Annunciation House, updated the community on the migrant situation and what types of specific donations are needed at this time.
Annunciation House—and our network of partner organizations and volunteers—is providing hospitality to the 200+ refugees who were dropped off by ICE last night at the Greyhound Station with no advanced notice. This is in addition to our ongoing work with planned refugee releases. Annunciation House has been very grateful for the community’s rapid response in meeting the urgent needs of this vulnerable population. Here are some of the ways you can help:
-Financial Donations: these allow us the most flexibility in meeting the diverse needs of our guests. We use financial donations to pay for the motels we are renting out to provide overflow shelter. We buy extra food when donations falter. We buy cleaning supplies and gas for our vehicles. We buy prescriptions for our guests and respond to urgent medical needs. Please consider donating at https://annunciationhouse.org/financial-donations/
-Clothing: WE ARE NOT ACCEPTING DONATIONS OF USED CLOTHING. While we appreciate your generosity, we simply do not have the space or person-power to receive, sort, and store used clothing donations. They will not be accepted. We ask that you please respect our wishes and direct your used clothing donations elsewhere. If we ever start to run low on these donations, Annunciation House *directly* will put out a call to the community
-Donations: We are accepting donations of NEW underwear, bras, and socks in sizes small & medium for men, women, and children. We are also accepting donations of boxes of fresh fruit, especially apples, tangerines/oranges, and bananas. These can be brought from 8am-8pm to 1003 E San Antonio Ave, El Paso, TX 79901
-Meals: We need organized groups (usually church groups) willing to bring prepared meals to our various houses of hospitality to feed groups of 50-100 refugees. If you are a member of such a group that is interested, please email us with some basic information about your group and your availability at email@example.com
-Volunteers: We are in need of volunteers, especially those willing to drive folks to the bus station and airport. If you are already volunteering, please contact your usual point of contact to inquire if additional help is needed. If you are not currently volunteering with us, please email us so that we can do a basic screening process: firstname.lastname@example.org. Please have patience with us in trying to respond as quickly as possibly and please understand that volunteers who show up unannounced will generally not be accepted.
Thank you again so much for your generosity and willingness to Welcome the Stranger, especially during this holiday season.
***story from 1030a
More than 200 migrants claiming asylum were dropped off at El Paso’s Downtown Greyhound station just after 8 p.m. Sunday night by Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents.
The move came as a shock to local immigrant advocacy groups who were not notified ahead of time that a need for shelter for that many people was needed.
KFOX-TV was the first to report the unexpected surge at the local Greyhound on the corner of Overland and Santa Fe Streets late Sunday evening.
Within an hour, El Paso Police had been called in to help control the crowd and local El Pasoans arrived with food, water and supplies for the migrants. The migrants were all from South America, most from Guatemala and Honduras. All of the adult migrants were traveling with children and most said they hadn’t eaten all day when ICE released them in Downtown El Paso.
Typically, ICE coordinates with local non-profit Annunciation House to secure the beds needed before releasing migrants. Sunday, however, Ruben Garcia with Annunciation House was notified that a need for 300 beds was needed. Garcia said he only had space for 200 migrants at their existing facilities due to the slowed holiday Greyhound bus schedules. As a result, Garcia welcomed the 200 migrants earlier in the afternoon to Annunciation House shelter locations throughout the city.
It wasn’t until 8 p.m. that Garcia and other local organizations were notified of the additional 211 migrants who had been left in Downtown. The large drop off forced immigration advocates and county leaders to spring into action to secure housing for the group.
Garcia, along with the El Paso City County Office of Emergency Management, County Judge Ruben Vogt and Dylan Corbett with the Hope Border Institute had five Sun Metro buses brought to the Greyhound Station to keep the migrants, many of whom were small children, warm while they attempted to secure a long-term shelter for them.
By 1 a.m. the Downtown group had been sent to two emergency locations in El Paso where Garcia says they’re expected to stay for at least two days. Migrants who are released by ICE in El Paso have sponsors, usually family or friends, in other parts of the country who will purchase bus or plane tickets to get them to their final destination within a day.
Due to the holiday bus schedules, Greyhound was booked through Christmas. The longer bus wait times means more migrants will be forced to stay in El Paso at the emergency shelters for the next two days according to Garcia.
A recent surge of asylum claims at the El Paso Ports of Entry are creating a strain on local non-profits working to assist the migrants as they travel through El Paso. Garcia previously told the El Paso Herald Post that more than 2,000 migrants a week were being processed by Annunciation House in the last two months.
Garcia told the Herald Post that in total, more than 400 migrants were released by ICE on December 23 alone. All were expected to need shelter for several days.
An attempt to reach ICE for public comment late Sunday night was unsuccessful after an auto-reply e-mail was sent stating that the public information officers were on furlough due to the government shut down and could not be reached for comment until the government reopens.
Congresswoman-elect Veronica Escobar and Congressman Beto O’Rourke along with Ruben Garcia are expected to meet with officials from ICE Monday afternoon to determine what caused the unexpected release of migrants.
If you would like to donate food to the emergency shelter sites, please contact Annunciation House at (915) 545-4509 or the Borderland Rainbow Center at (915) 263-4623. Volunteers who speak Spanish and are able to help at the sites are also needed and can be coordinated through the two contacts listed above.
For those residents wishing to help, Annunciation House, has been the organization at the forefront of helping the migrants, with shelter, food and assistance in getting to their final destination. To donate, visit their website
Imagine walking miles, hundreds of miles. From time to time you may get a ride, and someone may give you food. Then, imagine a day with nothing to eat, no ride, and dwindling hope.
This is something none of us may have ever experienced, but it is the daily reality of thousands of people who have made their way to the border, hoping to gain asylum and become United States Citizens.
Something else for you to imagine. You are admitted to the United States. You are granted status and are free to head to whatever city your family is in, but what do you in the meantime until your bus or plane leaves? Where do you stay? What do you eat? What about your children? What will you do for them?
I recently met with Rubin Garcia, before I assisted Fr. Abouid feed a rag-tag collection of people their evening meal.
As I was standing behind a table, serving noodles with meat sauce, I could see hope, appreciation and a sense of wariness in the eyes of each man, woman and child. Here they were, not so much worrying about themselves, and what they would eat, as much as they were worried about each other, their children, and family members who are still south of the border, and those they were heading to join here in America.
As Father Abouid said the blessing for the meal you couldn’t help but feel that each person there, laboring to serve, was following the words of Jesus Christ as found in Matthew 25:34-40:
“Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave me food, I was naked, and you clothed me, I was sick, and you visited me, I was in prison, and you came to me.” Then the righteous will answer him saying “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?” And the King will answer them, Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.”
We need to take this wise counsel to heart and apply it, now and in the future. The reality is, regardless of what you see on Fox news, migrants are being admitted to the United States, and are being allowed to join their families.
“People are always asking me what we need,” says Garcia of Annunciation House. “You cannot receive 2,000 people a week and not have a lot of needs in terms of food, toothbrushes, pampers, and care packages. But, all of that comes in. In other words, it comes in.”
There may be a time when, according to Ruben, some of what they need may be in short supply, but it does arrive.
El Paso, Las Cruces, both are very caring communities, and more and more people are willing to give of what they must share with those who have made the long, arduous journey to get the United States.
“The greatest needs is for venues, for churches that would seriously consider receiving refugees. Even one day out of the week” says Ruben.
El Paso and Las Cruces are both communities of great faith. There are Churches of every hue and denomination with space to spare. Why not use some of that space?
We must learn to live our faith beyond the walls of the church, beyond what we are normally comfortable with. It’s easy to help, to give when it’s a member of your congregation. We know that person, their past, and are connected to them. But Jesus did call us to serve not just our family, our friends, but everyone – everyone, regardless of where they are from or what their socioeconomic status may be. We can and should help.
Why does Father Joseph Hector Abouid of St George Antiochian Orthodox Church feel it’s important that their church help?
“The importance for my Church to be involved in feeding these people is best explained in the parable Jesus Christ Himself used: the Good Samaritan,” says Father Abouid. “Serving them is understanding the message of the aforementioned Parable. Samaritans were deemed impure by the People of Israel; second-class citizens or worse. They were Jews mixed with gentiles. They were not welcomed by the Jews, and if any Jew was caught dealing with one, he himself becomes unclean.”
Father Abouid has a point. We’ve come to a point where we’ve begun to vilify people who are wanting to come into the United States. Xenophobia is on the rise, and those south of our border have become the new “Samaritans.”
“It is true, we did not ask them to come, they came here voluntarily, and there are so many needy already in our society But, when asked to help, is it okay to turn a blind eye and be dismissive?” asks Father Abouid. “Are we faithful to the message Christ conveyed to us through the parable of the Good Samaritan? We were asked to help the cause, and by serving them a meal, we are just enacting the message of the Gospel itself. Also, providing them a meal, we are helping the government itself! The government is overloaded and is reaching out to the churches to help! If we disagree with the religious aspect of this cause, are we to disregard the patriotic aspect attached to it? By helping this cause, we are helping the government itself deal with this sudden crisis.”
What can churches do to help house someone in need? According to Garcia, there is a lot.
“You can look at what space we have here at the church and see if we can put cots or air mattresses on the floor. Maybe they can receive 40-50 refugees for even one night.”
What happens, according to Garcia, is that they would arrive in the late afternoon. The next day many of them begin to leave and head for the homes of family and friends in other parts of the country. For example, if you were to take a group in on Tuesday, the next day Annunciation House would begin the process of getting them to their families.
By Thursday, Friday at the latest, they would all have moved on and begun their journey to their homes, with family and friends in different parts of the country.
“So, for a Church that helps, this isn’t like a full-time thing. We are not going to do this full time. You would receive one day out of the week,” says Ruben Garcia. “We think we can surface the volunteers from our own faith communities, people that will come and help staff and received them and provide the meals. That is, in fact, the greatest need. Everything else will come, I promise you.”
Garcia calls this a surge, the people coming here to the United States. It’s not new, and it’s happened before. This is the fourth one since 2014.
“Looking back, historically, there is going to come a time when it begins to diminish,” says Ruben Garcia speaking of this current surge.
“So, if there are any churches out there that you know, please ask them if they can help,” says Ruben.
I join him in that plea. These are human beings. These are people who have been admitted, by Border Patrol, by ICE into the United States. They are no different than you or me. They are people with hopes and dreams of chasing the American Dream. Why not give them that chance?
“I encourage everyone to at least come down and help at least once!” says Father Abouid. “Don’t just jump into conclusions based on what you see on tv about these migrants. Come and help, and then, make your own determination about whether it is a just cause or not. And remember, our civil authorities need of our help as well, and they appreciate our support; even if it is by simply serving one meal a week.”
If you can volunteer, if you can provide space or serve meals, then get in contact with Annunciation House at email@example.com
President Donald Trump on Thursday doubled down on his intent to militarize and fortify the border against a caravan of Central American asylum-seekers slowly making their way toward the United States, saying his administration recently did away with “catch and release” for undocumented immigrants and plans to erect tents to hold future border crossers — including their children — until their immigration cases are resolved.
Trump offered no details on how his administration would be able to indefinitely hold families for long periods and still comply with a court settlement known as the Flores agreement that limits how long undocumented minors can be detained by the government. He also didn’t provide details on the number or location of the tents but said they’re necessary to stop a coming “invasion” of migrants.
“These illegal caravans will not be allowed into the United States and they should turn back now,” Trump said. “We’re putting up massive cities of tents, the military is helping us incredibly well.”
He also said any asylum seeker who throws rocks at U.S. military personnel will be considered to be carrying a weapon.
“Anybody throwing stones, rocks like they did to Mexico, and the Mexican military…we will consider that a firearm,” he said.
But despite Trump’s claim of ending catch and release, a shelter director in El Paso said just hours before the president’s speech that he was alerted by immigration authorities that more than 300 immigrants would be released into the El Paso community because Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials don’t have the space to detain the immigrants after they apply for asylum.
A current tent facility in Tornillo was recently expanded to hold 3,800 immigrants, up from the 400 or so the facility held earlier this year. That facility is designated as a holding center for unaccompanied minors who cross into the U.S. illegally.
It was the latest in a series of presidential declarations about immigration in the runup to Tuesday’s midterm elections. Last week, Trump said he was contemplating an executive order to end birthright citizenship — although constitutional experts say the president doesn’t have that power — then announced a military deployment to the southern border that started with a promise of 5,200 troops and has since increased.
Catherine Tactaquin, executive director for the California-based National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, said the move to send troops to the border is an “election-period stunt” that carries severe implications for border communities.
“There are well-documented cases of an increase in racial profiling, stress and tension” when troops are sent the border, Tactaquin said. “You can imagine what that kind of [military] presence can mean.”
The military operation, which has been dubbed “Faithful Patriot” will send between 7,000 and 15,000 troops to the U.S-Mexico border, 2,000 of whom are either en route or are already in Texas, according to federal officials. A Department of Defense fact sheet on the operation provided to The Texas Tribune shows that soldiers will be deployed from at least nine states and more than a dozen military installations to “coordinate operation, engineering, medical, and logistic support” with the Department of Homeland Security.
Along the border, the arrival of active duty military forces is making some residents nervous.
Bishop Garrison, an Army veteran who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom and currently serves as the interim executive director of the Truman National Security Project, a progressive policy think tank, was stationed at El Paso’s Fort Bliss during his military service. He said border residents have a reason to worry about their cities turning into militarized zones in the coming days.
“It’s hard for anyone to say with any complete certainty that we will see ‘Red Dawn’ or we’ll see something more akin to a training exercise, we really don’t know,” Garrison said, referring to the 1980s movie in which a tranquil Colorado town becomes a war zone after a foreign invasion. “To think we need the military to step in and handle this in any way, without even fully knowing what the issue is at hand, is absolutely ludicrous. I can only imagine how stressful and scary this might be.”
Bishop said the mission outlined in the Defense Department fact sheet seems intentionally broad, “because they don’t know what kind of issues they are going to encounter,” he said. “Anything could pop up that they would need to then argue that they had authorization to do or to handle.”
McAllen Mayor Jim Darling said previous deployments of the National Guard and state troopers to the Rio Grande Valley created a negative image of border communities as “unsafe.”
“The publicity of the National Guard and Department of Public Safety and the politics of saying, ‘I’m going to protect the border,’ the main effect to me is hurting local border communities,” Darling said. “The border crisis is really a crisis of our immigration policy and foreign policies in Central America.”
In nearby Progreso, a small town on the Rio Grande, chain-link gates have been installed on the pedestrian walkways of an international bridge connecting the town with Nuevo Progreso, Mexico.
B&P Bridge Company, which owns the crossing, put up the gates Saturday after being approached by Customs and Border Protection, said Julie Guerra-Ramirez, the company’s bridge director.
“By no means was it a mandate,” she said. “It’s all in preparation in case the caravan decides to come this way. All we’re doing is taking precautions.”
Sandra Cavazos, a spokesperson for Customs and Border Protection’s office on the bridge, declined to comment about the installation of the gates.
As the migrant caravan makes its way through southern Mexico, migrants who have already reached the border have recently started camping out on the international bridge connecting El Paso and Juarez as they wait to present themselves at the port of entry and request asylum. Customs and Border Protection officials have been stationed at the bridge for months and have routinely turned back would-be asylum seekers before they cross the international boundary. Agency officials say that’s because they don’t have room to process the influx of immigrants seeking safe haven.
Garrison, the El Paso military analyst, saidtrade and everyday cross-border travel at the international bridges could be affected by the troop deployment.
During a press conference announcing the operation on Monday, Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin K. McAleenan said his agency would try to “maintain lawful trade and travel to the greatest extent possible.” But Garrison said it’s unlikely that daily commerce won’t be affected.
“I am incredulous, I find that very hard to believe,” he said.
Texas would be the hardest hit by any slowdown. From January to August of this year, the Laredo customs district, which includes the Rio Grande Valley, has processed more than $153 billion in two-way trade with Mexico, according to WorldCity, a Florida-based company that analyzes trade data. The El Paso district, which includes New Mexico, has processed almost $52 billion.
U.S. Rep Vicente Gonzalez, D-McAllen, said he doesn’t expect the military deployment to affect cross-border trade in his district.
“I don’t see it happening,” he said. “Trade has a lot of influence and I think the day that trade is impacted, the president and the administration on the other side of the aisle will have their own pressure to deal with from large corporations, from the energy sector to agriculture. I think you’ll see a change of policy just from that pressure.”
Hannah Wiley and Teo Armus contributed to this story.
Ask a border lawmaker from Texas how much President Donald Trump’s decision to send the military to the U.S.-Mexico border will cost taxpayers, and the response could be a shrug of the shoulders. Same thing goes if they’re asked how long the deployment will last or if it will disrupt cross-border trade and travel.
Two days after federal officials announced that active-duty military will descend on the border to thwart the caravan of Central American asylum-seekers slowly approaching the United States, border lawmakers said they’ve been left in the dark about any further details surrounding the estimated 5,200-troop deployment.
“It’s ridiculous, we’re not getting any actual information,” said a staff member with U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela’s office. Vela represents the Brownsville area of the Rio Grande Valley and has been an outspoken critic of the deployment and other immigration-enforcement initiatives.
So far, Vela’s office said it doesn’t have more information than what officials told reporters on Monday, when Air Force Gen. Terrence O’Shaughnessy, the chief of U.S. Northern Command, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin K. McAleenan announced the deployment.
The closest thing lawmakers get to a daily update is a teleconference with Department of Homeland Security officials. But some border lawmakers say they were only made aware of those updates from other members’ offices.
“Not once have I received that email from the administration, I’ve received that email from other people that are going to be on the call from the Congressional Hispanic Caucus,” a chief of staff to a border Democrat told The Texas Tribune. “[That office] gets it from who knows who? How are we supposed to know what’s going on?”
And when they do get those updates, the staffer said, they leave a lot of questions unanswered. O’Shaughnessy said Monday that 5,200 troops would be deployed by the end of the week and that there were 800 on their way to Texas, but an email Tuesday from Homeland Security to lawmakers said the recent activity didn’t warrant a call to inform lawmakers of the latest developments.
“As there are no substantial updates from yesterday’s call, there will not be a migrant caravan update call today,” a Customs and Border Protection official wrote in the email. A call Tuesday afternoon to Homeland Security’s legislative affairs office wasn’t returned.
A Customs and Border Protection spokesperson in El Paso on Monday declined to provide additional details, and an agency spokesperson in Laredo on Tuesday provided a link to an archived video of Monday’s news conference from O’Shaughnessy and McAleenan, along with a statement saying the agency had “nothing further to offer at this time beyond the video links and the following written statement regarding current preparations.”
The office of U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, R-Helotes, did not respond to a request for comment, and a representative from the office of U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-El Paso, told the Tribune it didn’t have any more information than what’s already been reported in the media.
There are few overt signs of activity on the border so far. In the South Texas town of Progreso, Customs and Border Protection have installed a chainlink fence on the international bridge between the town and its Mexican counterpart, Nuevo Progreso, according to news reports.
The ABC affiliate in the Rio Grande Valley reported that a “10-foot cyclone gate,” as one passerby described it, had been installed by Monday afternoon on the pedestrian walkway heading from Mexico into the United States.
The Progreso bridge is one of just two over the Rio Grande with a private owner — in this case, Sam Sparks Jr. and the B&P Bridge Company.
A spokesperson for the bridge company referred a request for comment to Customs and Border Protection.
Sandra Cavazos, a spokesperson for the Customs and Border Protection office at the Port of Progreso, declined to comment about the fence’s installation, instead referring back to B&P.
“This bridge is kind of special in that its privately owned,” Cavazos said. “They can tell you about any kind of infrastructure on their property.”