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Border & Immigration

South Texas Border Organizations Offer Help As Region Faces Power, Water Issues And Economic Losses From Winter Storm

La Unión del Pueblo Entero's headquarters
Maria Mendez
La Unión del Pueblo Entero's headquarters in San Juan, Texas in January 2021.

The South Texas border is facing power outages and major economic losses from the winter storm, but community organizations are stepping up to offer support amid their own struggles. Check the end of the story for a list of local aid.

Many parts of the South Texas border didn't see the heavy snowfall reported across the state, but the extended cold temperatures and icing are dealing a blow to communities and industries in the area.

Some South Texans lost power from Monday to Wednesday, but almost 6,500 AEP Energy customers in Laredo and Zapata still lacked power beyond the middle of the week, as did more than 16,500 customers in the Rio Grande Valley, according to the company’s outage map. Residents in Alamo and part of Laredo are also now facing boil water notices.

Community Impacts

In the Rio Grande Valley, community organizations powered through electricity outages to support fellow residents and migrants.

The Catholic Charities Respite Center in McAllen lost power earlier this week and received generators from local authorities, according to Sister Norma Pimentel, the executive director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley.

The center had already been busy before the storm taking in migrant families being paroled and released by Border Patrol into the U.S. due to policy changes and limited shelter capacity in Mexico.

The families were tested for COVID-19 and offered help by the center before quickly boarding buses to other parts of the country.

But with the inclement weather, Pimentel said the families could not leave and the center was reaching capacity, sheltering around 500 migrants on Tuesday.

“It’s really stretching us, but we’re still there for them,” she said.

At the same time, they have been helping migrants still waiting in Mexico to seek asylum in the U.S. stay warm with blankets and other supplies while braving the cold in tents.

“Those little tents are like ice boxes,” she said.

The Biden administration has ordered authorities to begin reprocessing asylum seekers in Mexico in Brownsville and El Paso next week, but Pimentel said registration will be the first step and migrants will likely have to wait longer to be able to cross the border.

To help their efforts, she said people can donate through their website or items on their Amazon list given directly to migrants.

La Unión del Pueblo Entero supports farmworkers, lower-income residents and immigrant communities in the Rio Grande Valley.

The community union’s headquarters in San Juan also lost power, said Daniel Diaz, director of organizing for LUPE. They regained it Wednesday, but he said many of LUPE’s members, including himself, were still struggling with energy and cell phone issues, complicating their efforts to reach out to vulnerable residents.

“It's having a real awful impact in neighborhoods like colonias that traditionally, majority of those homes are like trailers or like substandard homes that don't have insulation,” he said. “They don't have power. Folks out there are going through a lot right now.”

They were providing meals and gift cards to residents in need. Nohemí Paz told LUPE members distributing aid on Wednesday that she was struggling to eat because her electric stove wasn’t working and her car had broken down.

She burned wood from fallen trees to cook the little food she had and planned to go get more food with the gift card from LUPE. But without money for a hotel, she feared the next cold fronts forecasted for Thursday.

“I need to leave because I have diabetes, high blood pressure and I don’t have my medicines,” she said. “God sent y’all to me.”

RGV resident Nohemí Paz receives a gift card from LUPE community organizer Marco Lopez. The community union offered residents gift cards and meals in response to the winter storm hitting Texas.
Courtesy of LUPE
RGV resident Nohemí Paz receives a gift card from LUPE community organizer Marco Lopez. The community union offered residents gift cards and meals in response to the winter storm hitting Texas.

Diaz said their members who work in the Valley’s fields may also be left without work even after the cold passes.

“They know that they're not going to be working in citrus this year,” he said. “I think they're going to try to figure out what crops to follow or where to go across the country to try to find some work somewhere else.”

Economic Toll

South Texas farmers and workers had already been reeling from pandemic disruptions and Hurricane Hanna’s landfall last year, and are now preparing for major losses from the freezes hitting the state this week.

“It’s an economic disaster,” said Dante Galeazzi, president of the Texas International Produce Association.

He said leafy greens have probably been lost, but it’s not yet known whether fruit, vegetables and heartier items like onions will survive the temperature drops forecasted until Saturday.

"We sincerely hope that the trees endure this cold weather and that they’re able to continue producing for future years,” he said, explaining that losing trees of crops like citrus would cost farmers years of investment.

Calculating the economic fallout will take a few weeks after cold weather, but Galeazzi said he estimates a significant portion of Texas’ $1 billion sales in produce will be lost.

For the 30,000 farm laborers in the state, he said it could mean up to months without work and will also impact employees in related industries like packing and transportation.

Galeazzi said produce imports from Latin America through South Texas are also likely to fall due to the inclement weather in northern Mexico and issues on roadways, stalling the food supply chain as Texans run out of food.

“If you don't have logistics, then produce sits there,” he said. “It doesn't mean there's a shortage of food, it just means that the trucks are limited in how many deliveries they can make.”

The Port of Laredo’s commercial bridges were still operating, but Laredo City Manager Robert Eads said the city was reporting lower traffic due to the weather.

Beyond the border, Mexican natural gas lines for imports from Texas froze and left almost five million Mexican customers without power on Monday, according to the Associated Press. The outages quickly hit northern border states also experiencing cold weather.

But on Tuesday, the Mexican government said 26 of the country’s 32 states were affected by power outages, including rotating blackouts to ration energy.

Mexico uses gas to generate about 60% of its power, and private plants supply 80% of northern Mexico’s power, according to the AP.

Manufacturing assembly plants in northern Mexico have lost at least $2.7 billion from the power outages with companies along the border losing $200 million every hour from logistics, wage and plant reactivation expenses, Reforma’s Mexico Today reported.

Organizations providing aid in South Texas:

South Texas Food Bank

Rio Grande Valley

RGV Mutual Aid

LUPE

RGV Food Bank

Catholic Charities RGV

Border Perspective

Laredo area

Laredo Community Fridge

Canidae Collective

Laredo Regional Food Bank

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