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As Politicians Descend On The Border Some Local Residents Say There Is No 'Crisis'

Maria Mendez | Texas Public Radio

The Texas-Mexico border remains closed to many migrants and foreign travelers, but it was bustling on Friday as various officials and political groups visited the area.

Texas Sens. Ted Cruz and John Cornyn led a delegation of 18 Republican senators from across the country on a tour of the Rio Grande Valley. They joined Border Patrol overnight, according to a tweet from Cruz, and held a press conference in Mission Friday afternoon.

"What is occurring on the border is heartbreaking, and it is a tragedy," Cruz said during the press conference, describing an overcrowded temporary tent facility in Donna for migrants.

Cruz went on to denounce the Biden administration's refusal to allow media into the facility with senators. Other Republican senators called for policy changes but hinted at opposing Biden's legislative proposal for immigration reform.

About 50 miles from the border in Carrizo Springs, Democratic Congressman Joaquin Castro of San Antonio also led a delegation of lawmakers on a tour of a temporary migrant shelter for the growing number of unaccompanied migrant children in federal custody.

Maria Mendez | Texas Public Radio

In Laredo, a crowd of more than 50 people, many unmasked and brandishing Trump memorabilia, gathered on the banks of the Rio Grande for an event called “We The People Stand For Border Security.”

They sat in lawn chairs or stood under the sun as they listened to speakers such as Texas Republican Chairman Allen West. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton had also been included in the event line-up on Facebook.

Joe Espinoza, a native Laredoan and Trump voter, said he decided to join the event organized by conservative groups from across the country because he does believe there is a crisis in Laredo.

He said he sympathized with some of the migrants trying to cross the border or already in the U.S., but also said he opposed Biden’s attempts at immigration reform.

“We want border security,” he said. “The laws are there. Enforce the laws. No one gets hurt.”

Local activists held a counter-protest at a nearby park, where they chanted “Laredo is safe. The danger is your hate.” They also held a virtual press conference on Thursday to denounce the event and object to the characterizations of a border “crisis.”

Allen West addresses the crowd.
Maria Mendez | Texas Public Radio
Allen West addresses the crowd.

“I’ve seen crises before, and we’ve lived through disaster before, and we’re not there right now,” said Rev. Michael Smith, the executive director of the Holding Institute in Laredo.

He said they have seen migrant families come through Laredo, including those previously forced to wait out their asylum proceedings in Mexico by the Trump administration. But he said they were prepared to assist them.

“And we’re not there because we have been working towards this day for many months prior to this,” he said.

On Thursday, President Joe Biden said the Trump administration’s policy to turn away migrants during the pandemic remained unchanged for all single adults and most families. He explained that his administration would only allow unaccompanied migrant children across the border.

Biden added that the increase in families and minors arriving at the border was a result of the seasonal uptick in migration, despite Republicans blaming it on his partial rollback of Trump-era policies.

Mexico’s President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador also was also expected to visit Ciudad Juarez on Friday to talk about vaccines and immigration.

Biden also has left in place Trump’s restrictions against nonessential travel, only allowing Mexican nationals to cross for essential purposes such as work, education and health care and leaving border cities without many of their international shoppers and tourists.

Smith said he welcomed people traveling for the border security rally to spend locally.

“We don’t mind as a community receiving some of that out-of-town money,” he said. “Whoever you are, welcome to Laredo. Enjoy your stay. Eat lots of Mexican food and shop at our malls.”

Activist Tannya Benavides said the border security event itself pointed to a lack of a crisis in Laredo.

“You don’t invite people to bring out their folding chairs if you really believe this is really a war zone,” she said. “They are just using us as a stage.”

Activists in the Rio Grande Valley also criticized Senate Republicans' focus on the border instead of immigration reform and on border needs such as education and health care.

"The RGV border region, our home, is a vibrant place where millions of families and individuals work hard every day for a better future," said Tania Chavez, a strategist for La Union del Pueblo Entero, in a statement. "No matter our race, background, or zipcode, the grand majority of us just want our families to be whole and our communities to be free.”

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María Méndez can be reached at maría@tpr.org or on Twitter at @anxious_maria