Eagle Pass residents on edge as Texas Gov. vows to expand border operations

Residents of Eagle Pass say they’re more worried about danger stirred up by Gov. Greg Abbott than by immigrants attempting to cross the Rio Grande.

By David Martin Davies, Texas Public RadioFebruary 8, 2024 10:22 am, ,

From Texas Public Radio:

Maxwell Hayes unleashed his frustrations on a pair of Eagle Pass police officers.

“It’s your job to protect America from criminals! Do it!” Hayes yelled at the officers, who calmly absorbed the abuse.

The police had barricaded the streets that lead to Shelby Park.

That’s where the Texas National Guard has taken over. It fronts two-and-a-half miles of the Rio Grande, but the riverbank is now piled high with row after row of razor wire and a wall built out of steel shipping containers.

“I’m supposed to be down there right now protesting these people coming across my border,” Hayes said.

A supporter of far right militias, he traveled to Eagle Pass from Colorado to join the so-called “Take Our Border Back” convoy, a mix of Trump supporters, migration hawks, election deniers and conspiracy theorists.

“We got billions of dollars going to Ukraine massacring Russians and nobody cares about that massacre,” Hayes said.

The police closed entry to the area because of growing concerns about violence, reports of gunfire, and a local bank robbery.

David Martin Davies / Texas Public Radio

Maxwll Hayes traveled to Eagle Pass from Colorado to join the so-called “Take Our Border Back” convoy.

This all has locals on edge and feeling like they are caught in the middle. They are alarmed at seeing their once quiet city militarized and becoming a magnet for the extremists.

“There are some people that are being confrontational,” said Amber Duncan.

She and her five children live next door to Shelby Park. They’ve watched what she calls “chaos” in front of her home.

“This is where I live. Cops are worried about us because they know us,” Duncan said. “They say be careful with the kids because it’s going to get wild. Make sure you’re safe.”

Duncan said she’s worried about the potential for an outbreak of violence similar to the 2019 El Paso Wal-Mart shooting that targeted Mexican Americans and where 23 people were murdered by an anti-immigration white nationalist.

Now Eagle Pass is attracting zealots who claim the border is wide open.

This past weekend, a few thousand people poured into the border city to show their support for the state of Texas in a court battle over the Border Patrol’s cutting of the razor wire stacked along the Rio Grande.

John Rudoff / Sipa USA Via Reuters

Several hundred trucks, cars, and other vehicles met in Dripping Springs, Texas on Feb. 2, 2024 to make a slow convoy via San Antonio and Uvalde to Quemado and Eagle Pass, Texas, to claim that America's borders were insecure.

The Supreme Court recently sided with the Biden administration and lifted a stay allowing the Border Patrol to cut the barbed wire.

But Texas Governor Greg Abbott said the high court is wrong and isn’t backing down.

“Because Joe Biden has completely abdicated and abandoned his responsibility to enforce the laws of the United States, I have used a clause in the Constitution that empowers states to defend themselves,” Abbott said.

It’s an open question if Abbott’s interpretation of the Constitution will pass with the Supreme Court. But the governor insists Shelby Park is just the beginning.

“We’re not going to contain ourselves just to this park,” Abbott said. “We are expanding to further areas to make sure that we will expand our level of deterrence and denial of illegal entry into the United States.”

Kaylee Greenlee Beal / Reuters

FILE PHOTO: Razor and concertina wire, installed by the Texas National Guard, is placed in Shelby Park at the U.S.-Mexico border in Eagle Pass, Texas, U.S., January 16, 2024.

Residents of Eagle Pass say they’re more worried about danger stirred up by Abbott than the immigrants attempting to cross the Rio Grande, which has dropped considerably since the start of the new year.

“I hate that he [Abbott] has put a damn target on my community. And he doesn’t care,” said Jesse Fuentes, a multi-generational resident of Eagle Pass. “He just wants to push his political narrative and put us in peril.”

Fuentes sports a walrus mustache and a face that’s been weathered from a lifetime canoeing on the Rio Grande. His business leading tours on the river had to shutter after Abbott ordered Shelby Park closed to the public.

“They’ve basically taken over our prosperity.” Fuentes said. “This is our community. This is our park.”

But Bob Bagley, a member of the anti-migration convoy, said taking the park is necessary for national security.

“No country can withstand 10 to 12 million [people] coming in and invading their country,” Bagley said.

Go Nakamura / Reuters

Texas Governor Greg Abbott attends the press conference about border security, joined by 13 governors from different states, at Shelby Park, in Eagle Pass, Texas, U.S., February 4, 2024.

Bagley drove from the Houston area. He was at the Capitol during the January 6th insurrection but says he didn’t go inside. He calls illegal migration a grave threat to the future of America.

“They are destroying our economy, our businesses,” Bagley said. “The people who live here in this county and this city Eagle Pass are afraid to come out at night, to be on the streets.”

Eagle Pass residents say the real invasion is from far-right activists, who are being inspired by Abbott.

“Mr. Abbott, get the hell out of our city and get the hell out of our park!” said Juanita Martinez, a local Democratic activist. “We want you out!”

There are several pending federal legal challenges to Abbott’s actions at the border. And if precedent holds, Texas will lose. But given Abbott’s refusal to recognize the Supreme Court’s ruling on the razor wire, tensions will continue to mount in Shelby Park and along the Texas-Mexico border.

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