© 2024 Texas Public Radio
Real. Reliable. Texas Public Radio.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Eagle Pass mayor predicts more migrants will follow the thousands of people searching for hope and safety

A Customs and Border protection bus makes its way to migrants under Eagle Pass' port of entry.
Gaige Davila
Texas Public Radio
A Customs and Border protection bus makes its way to migrants under Eagle Pass' port of entry.

Get TPR's best stories of the day and a jump start to the weekend with the 321 Newsletter — straight to your inbox every day. Sign up for it here.

More than 6,000 migrants seeking asylum have crossed into Eagle Pass, Texas, this week, and Mayor Rolando Salinas Jr. said authorities are expecting thousands more to cross through the city in the coming days.

“This is really not normal," he told TPR. "Nothing that we've seen ever really to have so many people crossing in without consequence and congregating at the international bridge.”

Salinas signed a disaster declaration for the city on Wednesday evening. In response, the Department of Defense has sent more active duty troops to Eagle Pass to assist with the processing of migrants.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection has had to redirect its agents from processing vehicles and the railway along the busy trade port between Piedras Negras, Mexico, and Eagle Pass in order to assist Border Patrol with taking migrants into custody.

“CBP is executing our operational plans and working to decompress areas along the southwest border. We are safely and efficiently vetting and processing migrants to place them in immigration enforcement proceedings consistent with our laws and operational planning efforts," A CBP spokesperson said in a statement Friday. "Those without a legal basis to stay will be processed for removal and face consequences that include a minimum five-year bar on re-entry, loss of eligibility to access lawful pathways, and prosecution for repeat offenders.”

CBP said it is better prepared than they were two years ago up the Rio Grande in Del Rio, where there was a much larger surge. The agency said it has more infrastructure in place, better prepared to deal with big influxes

They have already moved almost all of the migrants out from under the bridge within 18 hours, but more continue to arrive.

The border city of about 30,000 people has become one of the most heavily-crossed areas along the U.S.-Mexico border in recent years. Salinas said one reason is because there is less cartel activity on the Mexican side of the border.

"Out of all the border, this area is one of the safest. When you compare it to Brownsville, to Laredo, to El Paso — the cartel activities in those cities — you could see it more over there, not as much over here in this area," Salinas said. "So because it's so safe, the word gets out, and that's why you have so many people crossing through Eagle Pass."

Yet at the same time, the changing currents in the Rio Grande in this area make it one of the most dangerous to swim across. Just this week, a 4-year-old child and an adult male drowned trying to cross.

Many of the migrants arrived in Eagle Pass after hopping on top of cargo trains in Northern Mexico. Ferromex, the largest Mexican railroad operator, suspended 60 of its train routes after a series of accidents the company said resulted in “half a dozen deaths or injuries of migrants."

Asylum seekers heading to the U.S. travel on a train after thousands of migrants crossed into the United States in recent days, in El Carmen, Mexico September 21, 2023. REUTERS/Daniel Becerril
Daniel Becerril
Asylum seekers heading to the U.S. travel on a train after thousands of migrants crossed into the United States in recent days, in El Carmen, Mexico September 21, 2023. REUTERS/Daniel Becerril

The city’s only shelter has been unable to accommodate all of the asylum seekers being released and has moved to a bigger space to help the migrants after they've been processed. The Migrant Resource Center in San Antonio has been filling up quickly as many migrants make their way to their destinations across the country.

While first responders are overwhelmed in Eagle Pass, the city remains quiet as federal officials work to process the migrants that continue to make their way to the city.

However, Republican politicians, including Gov. Greg Abbott, continue to sound the alarm. In a social media postWednesday, Abbott claimed that Border Patrol agents cut some of the razor wire DPS installed on the Rio Grande at his direction. The Republican governor said he “immediately deployed more Texas National Guard to the area to repel illegal crossings & install more razor wire.”

Maverick County Democratic party chair Juanita Martinez said she believes the situation is being blown out of proportion by right wing media and politicians.

“It's very frustrating for the Republicans to be spreading this propaganda, painting a picture of our community that is absolutely false," she said. "It's fear mongering, and it serves their political agenda.”

Eagle Pass is at the center of Abbott’s Operation Lone Star border security program that calls on Texas Department of Public Safety and National Guard troopers to arrest migrants on state trespassing charges.

The multi-billion program has been criticized for violating the rights of asylum seekers and for usurping authority from the federal government to enforce immigration laws. Abbott and the Biden administration are currently in a legal battleover a 1,000-foot string of spiked buoys Texas installed near Eagle Pass to deter crossings along with miles of razor wire.

Salinas came under criticism for allowing DPS to use its largest public park along the Rio Grande as a staging area. Eagle Pass City Council voted in August torescind an affidavit that declared Shelby Park Salinas' private property. This had allowed migrants to be arrested on state criminal trespassing charges.

Following the recent surge in migration, Salinas reinstated the affidavit that authorizes Texas Department of Public Safety troopers to arrest migrants in Shelby Park.

"Anyone that violates any type of state crime, whether they cross that concertina wire or damage any type of property around the river, we are going to make arrests," DPS spokesperson Chris Olivarez told FOX News.

It was a short-lived victory for the federal government over the Texas’ anti-migrant border buoys. The day after a federal judge ordered the buoys removal, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals issued an emergency stay.

Despite attempts by the state of Texas, the U.S., and Mexico to deter illegal migration, a growing number of migrants are arriving at the border as conditions continue to deteriorate in Central America and Venezuela.

On Wednesday, the Biden administration announced that it is expanding Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to nearly half a million Venezuelans already in the U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in a statement that TPS would not apply to more recent arrivals.

TPR was founded by and is supported by our community. If you value our commitment to the highest standards of responsible journalism and are able to do so, please consider making your gift of support today.

Gaige Davila is a journalist based in the Rio Grande Valley. He was TPR's Border and Immigration Reporter from 2021-2024.