The Brownsville Herald
May 3, 2014
by Ty Johnson
Among the thick brush on the American bank of the Rio Grande just south of the Santa Rosalia Cemetery, there is a concrete slab clearly visible from the dirt road frequented by U.S. Border Patrol vehicles.
A step toward it is a step toward Mexico.
From that slab, a well-worn path cuts through the tall grass leading to the water’s edge.
The path leads to a dam made of concrete blocks — there is an irrigation pump nearby — and provides an easy, dry crossing over the river and across the U.S. border, which is, in most places in Texas, the midpoint of the river.
The river is narrow and the water level is low, making an illegal crossing either way a short, dry skip from concrete block to concrete block.
“It’s an obvious place to cross,” says Pamela Taylor, whose house is a short walk to the east.
She’s lived at that house, which today stands between the border fence and the river, since 1946 and remembers a time when workers would cross the border freely, some pitching camp and sharing with her their tortillas. However, she said she’s never seen anything close to the types of illegal crossings she has witnessed recently.
“The situation now is so different,” she said. “They used to come in twos and threes. Now they come in 10s and 20s.”
Shortly after returning from an Easter holiday she learned she had “just missed it” from a neighbor.
“They just got 20 or 30 of them on your back patio,” she remembers him telling her of the apprehended immigrants arrested on her property.
Gone are the days of braceros and tortillas, she noted. Someone told her those arrested had also attempted to break into her home.
“It’s getting worse in this specific area, for some reason,” she said.
And it’s not just her who is noticing the influx.
U.S. Border Patrol apprehensions in the Rio Grande Valley this fiscal year are up nearly two-thirds compared to last year, according to the agency’s RGV Sector spokesman Daniel Tirado.
Tirado said Friday that agents in his sector had made in excess of 125,000 such arrests since October.
Those numbers have not gone unheeded, as U.S. Customs and Border Protection has worked over the past two months to shore up its personnel depth in the area, putting more boots on the ground in the region of the country with the most illegal crossings.
A personnel shift announced a little more than a month ago brought more than 100 Border Patrol agents from Arizona and California, and another 54 agents arrived in McAllen last week to help combat the growing number of people crossing illegally into United States in South Texas.
While Border Patrol sectors farther west have seen declines in the number of apprehensions, the Valley has seen such statistics skyrocket, likely due to an increase in the number of undocumented immigrants from Central and South America who cross in the Valley.
“The Rio Grande Valley is the shortest point of travel from South and Central Mexico to the United States,” Tirado said, volunteering that as one of many factors in the regional spike. “Most of the detainees are from South and Central America.”
As the bulk of illegal crossings has shifted eastward over the past two years, Border Patrol has begun concentrating its agents in the Valley, as well.
But if the higher number of agents leads to even higher levels of apprehensions — as it has appeared to so far — it could signal that immigrants are so intent on crossing in the Valley that they’ll attempt it despite the increased Border Patrol presence.
That new collective resolve may be what makes the situation seem so different for Taylor, but she also has tangible evidence that things have changed.
Taylor had been planting cacti along the dirt road that runs in front of her house when she heard it coming. She gave the path a wide berth and figured it was someone smuggling drugs.
She saw an SUV barreling down the road at a high rate of speed being chased by Border Patrol.
“I thought he was running dope,” she said.
It’s the third high-speed chase she’s seen in the past month.
Before that she had witnessed none in nearly seven decades.
“We had never had a high-speed chase,” she said.
Taylor is sure this new breed of activity is due to the increased number of immigrants trying to cross in the Valley.
“It’s unbelievable the amount of people that come across,” she said.
Taylor wants the fence gone and she wants more agents, but she said government representatives haven’t responded to her letters detailing what it’s like living in the no-man’s land the United States created by putting up the fence.
She continues to advocate for the end of the fence project, but she is clearly skeptical that anyone will listen.
“They have no idea what’s going on down here,” she said of the politicians in Washington.