EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second installment in a two-part series. To read the first part, click here.
LOS INDIOS — One of the biggest headaches for Border Patrol agents in the Rio Grande Valley are the bends and curves of the river, which can make it a short sprint of a few hundred feet from the river to the levee to U.S. 281 and a getaway.
Speed is everything — for both sides.
“Even if you have, which they do, cameras there, video surveillance, it’s very difficult to get a Border Patrol agent to respond fast enough to detain and arrest these folks that make a mad dash from the river into these neighborhoods,” Los Indios Mayor Rick Cavazos said. “It may lead to failure-to-yield type pursuits, which really become very dangerous for the public.
“The barriers in these locations are very effective and they do work and there is a decline in crossings in these areas that are secured with a three-legged stool,” he added.
Some entries are made because much of the fencing along the Rio Grande here has broad gates which stand invitingly open, providing avenues for combines, cotton pickers and other large farm machinery heading to the fields across the levee.
Now that is changing.
Driving along a dirt trail next to a canal near Los Indios, we come to one of those open gates where a construction crew is installing a fixed gate which will open, probably via a coded keypad, only for law enforcement and farmers. Cavazos said he has been told other fixed gates will be installed to eliminate these open access points in the walls.
The canal we’re riding along leads to the Rio Grande, and a few weeks ago, drug smugglers threw a load into a pickup at the river, and roared back through the gate along this rutted track, headed for U.S. 281 just a few hundred yards away.
They didn’t make it, and neither did their 900 pounds of marijuana.
Gates and locks
Driving along the top of the levee, Cavazos points out Border Patrol “landscaping.”
The grass on both sides of the levee is mowed short, and brush is cleared so there is little chance of any hiding place.
At the bottom of the levee on the wall side, there’s another dirt road which is kept clear, too. Border Patrol units drag huge tractor tires along this track to keep it unblemished, and use this tactic to check for footprints to see where people are crossing.
“You see that hump over here,” Cavazos says, pointing to a spot maybe a hundred yards away in the La Paloma/El Ranchito area. “The river’s right there, the actual river.
“Here we had a lot of traffic,” he added of the spot, and it’s not just the river that’s close, but U.S. 281, too.
Blocking vehicles from reaching U.S. 281 is a locked yellow bar about three feet off the ground, with twin wheels in the middle.
“Until they install the (permanent) gate they have to stop this vehicle traffic from coming in here and taking off,” he said. “It’s a mitigator gate.
“It’s for the sole purpose of stopping this vehicle traffic,” he said. “What they would do is come to that little hump over there, load up, and out they go. See 281 is right over there, and they’re gone. It’s going to be a high-speed pursuit, there’s no question about it, a failure-to-yield pursuit.”
Out of sight
Cavazos says most people in the Valley, even those whose families have been here generations, don’t understand the true scope of border crossings or how they are processed.
Processing each asylum-seeker takes a Border Patrol agent an average of about four hours, and if the electronic fingerprinting kicks back a criminal record, that can add more hours.
Once processed, the non-criminal undocumented entrants are whisked off to the interior of the country by bus within 24 to 48 hours, awaiting a court date which is most likely years away.
“They will be given a court date and the nearest court date now from what we heard when I was at the roundtable with the president yesterday (Thursday), the nearest court date is two-and-a-half to three years out,” Cavazos said.
As crossings continue to spike in the Valley, particularly in the McAllen area and western Hidalgo County, Cavazos said unless you live right on the border or work in some capacity in processing these people, you’ll never notice it.
“So that’s why you have that, ‘We really don’t see any crisis,’” he said. “Well, yeah, you won’t see it. They get picked up and they get processed, they get dropped off at the bus station and they leave the Valley.
“If they ever flood McAllen, there’s no place for these people to go, they’re not moving north in the United States, kind of like what happened in El Paso recently where they dropped off a bunch of folks at the bus station with really no place to go, they were just kind of hanging out there,” he added.
“And, of course, those optics are different.”