On the Brink

For scenery it’s hard to beat a twelve mile stretch of road along the Rio Grande outside the Texas border town del Rio. There’s one problem. It’s a favorite crossing point for illegal immigrants trying to reach the U.S. They usually succeed but not always. The climb down to the river isn’t easy, and the current can be swift. There’s an occasional drowning. The National Guard greet most of the crossers and detain them for the Border Patrol.

The area is a special project of Texas Governor Greg Abbott to show he is serious about border control. His Abbott fence is now completed along the route. It’s not a thirty-foot-high Trump affair, only ten feet with razor wire on top. Migrants have cut holes in it with shears and are sometimes able to scale it. But Sergeant Alejandro Moy says it has helped his competent National Guard team to apprehend those crossing.

Sergeant Alejandro Moy

Between the fence and the migrants are the homeowners who pay a price in insecurity for their splendid setting on the river. They can expect daily visits from weary, bedraggled migrants wondering where to go next. Barking dogs alert them to the newcomers who may just be passing through or ask for some food.

Sometimes they want more. Diane Schroeder, a watchful resident, says she once had to save a horse from a migrant intent on transportation. Nelson Puo, a retired Border Patrol officer, caught a couple of migrants trying to make off with his refrigerator. He handed them over to the Border Patrol. He says every day he has to be on the look-out. It’s steady work, though good fishing is a compensation.

In effect, like it or not, the del Rio homeowners are a front-line defense against this southern invasion. Their equivalent are the large ranchers on the Arizona border whose property is violated at night by cartel groups clad in black and well-armed. But the ranchers have the advantage of distance. The interlopers steer clear of the ranch house to avoid a shootout. There’s no distance between the Rio Homeowners and their invaders who are closer than neighbors and not as well intentioned. Like the National Guard the residents have guns but cannot fire them unless fired on.

Still, they cope. Doughty Diane Schroeder is not put off by a glimpse of an armed black clad cartel boss giving orders on the opposite riverbank. Her husband, a truck driver, heard a noise outside one night with the dogs barking. When he opened the door with his gun, two trespassers flung themselves on the ground, pleading, “Don’t shoot!” He didn’t, to be sure, and learned that they were not trying to escape from Mexico but to return to it. Apparently, they had made a drug delivery and were going back to make another. Instead, they were turned over to the Border Patrol.

Diane Schroeder

Despite occasional shots from across the river and a lot of unwelcome visitors, the Rio residents seem determined to stay where they are. “This is America,” says Nelson Puo. “Why would I have to move out?” It’s a testament to the Texans that their property values have gone up from $7000 a lot to $10,000. If the migrants continue to come, so may the Texans. It’s a standoff.

The Open Border

The National Guard had just rounded up a group of migrants at the border town of del Rio, Texas. There were four Cubans, four Venezuelans and one Nicaraguan who had met and joined up on the long trek to the U.S. It was often touch and go whether they would make it. Obstacles abounded, manmade and natural. They had to struggle through a jungle and unwelcoming people.

The Venezuelans – three men and a young woman – had the most circuitous route through Honduras and Guatemala in Central America, then up through dangerous Mexico controlled by the drug cartels. They were robbed so often they couldn’t pay the badgering police who threatened to send them back or maybe do something worse. So they took odd jobs to raise the necessary cash and resumed their journey to the Mexican border town Acuna opposite del Rio.

The Venezuelans

Knee deep they waded across the Rio Grande into the easiest part of their journey – entrance to the U.S. Always quite open along its 2,000 miles, the border today has never been more accessible under the Biden Administration’s highly permissive policies. This group in particular, unarmed, with no drugs and seemingly quite happy to be here, would have little trouble staying.

Sergeant Alejandro Moy, who is in charge of several miles of the border outside del Rio, is glad to welcome this kind of group and amiably questions them. They are much like the other 1,000 people he has detained over the year. Others more criminally inclined may elude capture or find another route to carry out their drug trafficking.

Sergeant Moy along with the rest of the National Guard is at a disadvantage. He has a weapon but cannot use it unless he is shot at first. Nor does he have the power of arrest. So he must await the arrival of the Border Patrol to take the detainees into custody. Since there are not enough Border Patrol, the wait can be as long as three hours.

The Cubans

In the past I had no trouble spotting Border Patrol. On this trip, covering sixty miles on the border, I didn’t see any. I’m told they’re not available because they’re burdened with paperwork in processing the migrants. That leaves a lot of the border uncovered and open to the continual flow of drugs and people.

The only solution is sufficient manpower, and that is conspicuously lacking. The question is why are U.S. troops protecting borders in various parts of the world but not our own? Technological improvements are a help, as is the Trump fence when it’s completed, but the drug cartels are too wily, armed and organized to be stopped by these impediments. Their forces must be met by our forces on the other side.

Once the newcomers are processed, they go to a temporary holding center. Every fifteen minutes a bus arrives with some twenty migrants and then departs with twenty others, mostly healthy-looking young men who are sent to various parts of the U.S., presumably to work and maybe, some Democrats hope, to vote.

I met a relaxed and cheerful Cuban couple – Landy Andres DeTenssen and Rosa Leyum Gonzales – who said they wanted to escape oppression in Cuba for freedom in America. Like others they had to pay along the trip and skirt the dangers, but here they were in the land they longed for. They would like to report on their progress in their new home in Florida. By all means, I said.