Texas border town becomes hotspot for U.S. election year

(Xinhua) 08:21, February 04, 2024

Members of the Texas National Guard are on duty at the U.S.-Mexico border in Eagle Pass, Texas, the United States, Feb. 1, 2024. (Xinhua/Liu Jie)

EAGLE PASS, the United States, Feb. 3 (Xinhua) -- Large coils of concertina wire gleam silver in the sun, rusty shipping containers sit in a long row, and orange-red buoys are stacked on an open field, waiting to be installed as water barriers in the Rio Grande bordering the United States and Mexico.

At the closed gate between barbed wire fences, armed Texas National Guardsmen with armored vehicles are on duty, making Shelby Park, a municipal park in Eagle Pass, Texas, resemble a militarized zone.

The park, which stretches along the 2.5-mile-long Rio Grande river bank with four soccer fields for local residents to enjoy, has recently become a focal point in the national drama over immigration as partisan fights are unfolding in the U.S. general election year.


The Texas National Guard seized Shelby Park on Jan. 12 and restricted federal access under the order of the state's governor, Greg Abbott, who called the illegal border crossing "an invasion" and claimed the state has the right to defend itself because U.S. President Joe Biden has failed to fulfill his duty to secure the U.S. border.

The Supreme Court ordered last month that Texas cannot block Border Patrol agents from cutting wire to reach the river and aid migrants in distress. In response, Abbott asked state troops to install more razor wires and barriers along the border river.

The GOP governor thus successfully made national headlines, as his feud with the Biden administration is heating up over the state's right to border control.

Last month, 25 of the 26 other Republican governors issued a joint statement supporting Texas' constitutional right to self-defense. Former President Donald Trump, a leading Republican presidential candidate in 2024, has also supported Abbott.

The standoff between the state and the federal government led to a convoy of protesters, mostly Trump supporters, to head from the East Coast to Eagle Pass and two other border towns each in California and Arizona in an attempt to "take the border back."

Rallies were scheduled there on Saturday, though the convoy seems much smaller than anticipated, according to local media reports. Many protesters have described themselves as part of "God's army" taking actions against "globalists."

"The border has to be controlled and it's not ... And I think we need to do something," Jim Helms, a 68-year-old man from Alaska, told Xinhua. He changed his travel plans with "no hesitation" upon hearing of the convoy and came to Eagle Pass to join the rally.

Along with the support of 14 other Republican governors, Abbott is scheduled to conduct a press conference on Sunday, according to NBC News.

"Abbott and his supporters are creating a media circus for political gain and to raise money," Domingo Garcia, president of the League of United Latin American Citizens, said in an earlier statement, associating the convoy with the standoff between Texas and the White House over border security measures.

Members of the Texas National Guard check the razor wire barriers near the U.S.-Mexico border in Eagle Pass, Texas, the United States, Feb. 2, 2024. (Xinhua/Liu Jie)


Fewer than ten migrants, if any, have tried to cross the Shelby Park river segment in recent weeks, Xinhua has heard from sources who asked to remain anonymous.

In fact, Border Patrol agents, who previously used Shelby Park to process arriving migrants, can still launch their boats from the ramp in the park but they haven't tried to get full access again since it is "not necessary," Xinhua was told.

However, "just a mile north and south of the park, the border is wide open and those crossing the river are encountered, detained, and often returned to Mexico," Professor Jon Taylor, chair of the Department of Political Science and Geography with the University of Texas at San Antonio, told Xinhua.

Xinhua reporters spent approximately two hours at the border during sunrise on Friday morning but were unable to observe any migrants crossing. Notably, parallel concertina wires and barbed wire fences have created a continuous double barrier along the riverbank.

However, the presence of numerous items such as clothes, blankets, shoes, bags, combs, and SIM cards without chips left behind by migrants serves as a silent reminder, raising doubts about the effectiveness of these barriers and sparking concerns about the whereabouts of these migrants.

Clothing on the razor wire barriers are seen at the U.S.-Mexico border in Eagle Pass, Texas, the United States, Feb. 2, 2024. (Xinhua/Liu Jie)

"These immigrants ... you know, they have the right to come because they're looking for a better life," Jesus Casas, a certified public accountant who has lived in Eagle Pass for almost 40 years, told Xinhua outside his office.

"But the problem here is that somehow these immigrants, by coming in a very unorganized way, cause problems at the business level here, and also with the residents," he said.

Casas recalled what happened in December, when thousands of migrants inundated Eagle Pass, depleting the city's resources.

"The normal way to cross the Eagle Pass bridge (between the United States and Mexico) takes probably less than 30 minutes. So you can imagine the impact of people that have been waiting for eight hours," he said.

Mexicans who cross legally make up nearly half of Eagle Pass's workforce. Many U.S. residents also cross the river to work, according to local media reports.

"This is a very, very bad situation. I never experienced anything like it," Casas said. "I really believe that this situation needs to be worked out between the state governor and the Biden administration."

"We need to find some common ground where everybody can help each other," he further said.

Razor wire barriers are seen at the U.S.-Mexico border on the U.S. side bank of the Rio Grande in Eagle Pass, Texas, the United States, Feb. 1, 2024. (Xinhua/Liu Jie)


"The seizing and militarization of Eagle Pass' Shelby Park is a political stunt," said Taylor.

"It's a big scam, it's political propaganda," said Juanita Martinez, chair of the Maverick County Democratic Party, on NBC News. Eagle Pass, with nearly 30,000 residents, is the largest city in the county.

The standoff between Texas and the White House has gone viral on social media for days, leading to concerns of a looming constitutional crisis and exaggerated claims of an impending so-called "national divorce."

Eagle Pass, the eye of the current storm, appears to be a cover for partisan fights focusing on this year's presidential election.

There is a heavy law enforcement presence currently in Eagle Pass from both the federal and state side and the number of migrants crossing the border has nosedived recently.

Vehicles cross the International Bridge to leave the United States at the U.S.-Mexico border, in Eagle Pass, Texas, the United States, Feb. 1, 2024. (Xinhua/Liu Jie)

"It's primarily a political stunt by Republicans aimed at keeping immigration and border enforcement in the news," said Taylor. "They clearly have decided that immigration is their number one issue for the 2024 elections."

At the Capitol, Republican lawmakers are moving to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas in the House over his handling of the U.S. border while working to kill a bipartisan border deal in the Senate after Biden vowed to "shut down the border" if illegal crossings soar on the day he signs the legislation.

"Behind the GOP opposition to any bipartisan legislation or compromises on border reforms is Trump, who has made it abundantly clear that he wants this issue to remain front and center," Taylor said.

"However, this strategy is likely not sustainable long-term ... Other issues and crises will inevitably arise during the year," he added.

"They (Republicans) claim that it's a border crisis, but not so much that it can't wait for a potential Trump presidency in 2025. That's not a winning strategy," he said.

(Web editor: Zhang Kaiwei, Liang Jun)


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