EAGLE PASS, Texas — The national spotlight – or at least a share of it – is once again on a small southern Texas border community this week, this time in Eagle Pass. Here the law enforcement presence has been beefed up in response to the arrival of nearly 2,000 migrants that currently are being sheltered just across the border in Piedras Niegras.
Despite some initial concerns about what the migrants would do when they arrive, Francisco Vielma, an Eagle Pass resident of 45 years, says the ramped-up security hasn’t changed much in this city of roughly 30,000 people.
“We didn’t know if they were going to rush and try to get into Eagle Pass. I was a little concerned that maybe my store might get vandalized or we might have to shut down,” he said on Tuesday afternoon. “But none of that happened. So we feel safe.”
Many Eagle Pass residents – if not most of them – work, live, eat and sleep fewer than two miles from the U.S.-Mexico border, marked here by the Rio Grande in some areas and the steel slat fence in others. The backyards of some houses in the smaller neighborhoods have parts of the border fence literally going through their yards.
There’s varied reaction among the people in this tight-knit community about what is needed along the border and what they thought might happen when the migrant caravan arrived, as it did earlier this week. Many of them have neighbors who are Border Patrol agents and who help to keep them in the know.
The common denominator among all of them this week, as State Troopers, local law enforcement and Border Patrol agents come into town as a precautionary measure, is surprise at the response when it comes to security.
“I don’t know why we needed more law enforcement. I was very surprised,” said Edna Perez, another longtime resident who owns a hair salon just a few miles from the two ports of entry nearby.
Appreciation for the local law enforcement is universal with the residents here, including Vielma and Perez. Perez herself said Border Patrol agents are never absent when she’s jogging alongside the Rio Grande or kayaking on it.
This week is a bit different, though, in that that presence has been magnified.
“I noticed while I was doing yard work this morning that there was a trooper parked in our neighborhood and I live in a very nice, very quiet neighborhood,” she said, noting that was a bit of an unusual sight. “There’s more activity.”
A short drive through Eagle Pass on Wednesday and you’d understand what she and others are referring to. Marked Border Patrol or Texas State Trooper vehicles could be spotted on most blocks the closer you got the border itself.
Eagle Pass is a small town, though, and that might make their increased presence of law enforcement even more noticeable. You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who wasn't welcoming them to town, and some of those folks are the very same people surprised at how many more had arrived this week.
“We just passed through the bridge. In the past we didn’t see the troopers there, but they are there now in the bridge,” said Diego Reyes, who lives with his wife about 80 miles away in Sabinas, Mexico. “We’ve been coming all our lives, maybe once a month to show right now. But I think the people here have been nice and welcoming all this time.”
As military drills were conducted along the two bridges here throughout the day Wednesday, briefly closing them down, most of the community remained in a wait-and-see state of mind as far as what might eventually unfold on the border.
“On my way to school every single day, the kids are saying you can’t go a day without seeing the troopers,” said Alfredo Arellano, chairman of the Maverick County Republicans. They’re all surprised; it’s opened a lot of their eyes to realize what’s going on. We can’t be allowing illegal aliens to continuously cross and have our border unsecured.”
Arellano is one Eagle Pass Texan who said he’s supportive of a reinforced border wall along the lines of what President Donald Trump has suggested, saying it’s too easy to slip in between the steel slats that make up the current fence.
His counterpart of sorts on the other side of the political aisle, Maverick County Democratic Chairman Luis Ruiz, said while he’s not opposed to the urgent action at the border, it would’ve made more sense for him to see a different kind of uniform arrive in town.
“In all honesty, I would’ve thought the federal government would have sent more Customs and Border Patrol agents to conduct more interviews rather than all the extra security,” he said. “There’s only four people doing interviews locally for CBP. We need to accommodate for that.”
Mayor Ramsey Cantu told KENS 5 this week they are able to help out a dozen or so migrants seeking asylum daily. As for the large group that arrived this week, he said it would take months to process them all.
As he sat near the door of the tuxedo rental business he works at, Vielma shared one of the sentiments echoed by most of the residents of Eagle Pass. A huge number of them who have lived here for decades, if not all their lives. In a city where immigration is a way of life, they don’t want to see the members of the recently arrived caravan become an avalanche of undocumented border crossers.
“They have to go through due process. They can’t just demand it,” Vielma said. “They can’t be doing things their way.”