Illegal Immigration on the Rio Grande

Rio Grande River at sunset, Mission, Texas

Thursday evening, March 4, my husband and I launched our boat at Chimney Park on the Rio Grande, as we do 4–5 times/week. Border Patrol launches there, too, and has an “eye in the sky” parked there and often a manned and fully-mobile truck with a telescoping and 360-rotating “eye”/camera, also.

As we launched, we heard a police-type siren go off at the dock. We’ve never experienced this before, so we were confused. As we looked around, we saw a small group of 6–8 young men gathered on the Mexico side of the river with a raft. They were cheering, jeering and gesticulating some funny (and some rude) gestures. We were on the water, cruising by them, but they didn’t seem to be directing this at us.

Looking back at the U.S. riverbank, there stood a solitary U.S. Border Patrol agent beside his truck. He was literally wagging his finger, “No,” at the group of men in Mexico, who were alternately taunting him and declaring the equivalent of “C’mon, man, let us come. What’s the big deal? We’re not hurting anybody,” in Spanish.

We waved at the agent. He smiled and waved back. The men in Mexico retreated from the riverbank. The siren turned off. The U.S. Border Patrol boats were nowhere in sight and never appeared. In fact, no other agents showed up and we never felt unsafe.

I share this personal experience because these men were not stopped by a border wall. The border is the river. They were deterred by a single agent, wagging his finger, on the riverbank.

This agent is exceptional among the approximately 3,000 U.S. Border Patrol agents in the Rio Grande Sector, in that he was actually stationed ON the US-MX BORDER.

He stands in stark contrast to the overwhelming number of agents we see each and every day sitting in their trucks or SUVs, miles from the river, mostly staring at their cell phones. We have interrupted those agents on personal phone calls, watching entertainment videos, playing video games, looking at pornographic magazines, and even sleeping; and yes, we have reported these incidents to Border Patrol command, year after year.

Given the fact that the Immigration & Nationality Act of 1952 gives U.S. Border Patrol agents the authority to enter all private property within 25 miles of the U.S. border WITHOUT WARRANT for the purpose of patrolling, there is no reason the majority of all agents on any given shift should not be forward deployed, on the banks of the river, to observe, report and respond — if their mission, purpose and goal is truly to prevent people from illegally entering the country. They have the authority to do this on every piece of land from the Laguna Madre to San Diego. Of course, effective border control would deal a severe blow to the for-profit prison industry, for whom the U.S. taxpayer is the biggest client; but I digress…

I am a child of the borderlands. I am not naive. I know there are “bad hombres,” like our former sheriff, Lupe Trevino, and his son, Jonathan, both of whom have been sentenced to prison for their involvement with drug traffickers; but the DATA from U.S. Border Patrol shows the primary and predominant threat of violence to their agents is people throwing rocks at them, NOT armed cartel gangs engaging them in gunfights in order to cross people, drugs or anything else across the river. It is a statistically NEGLIGIBLE event; a true anomaly. And the #1 cause of injury and death to agents on duty is motor vehicle accidents.

In nearly 9 years of working on the river, and 9 months of routine boating on it, this is only the fourth time I have witnessed people crossing or attempting to cross the river. Yes, it’s a long border — about 1,900 miles — and the terrain varies along it, from wide river and tall mountains, to deadly deserts and dense urban environments, but the Rio Grande Valley does NOT need a border wall. We need Border Patrol agents ON THE RIVERBANK, on the actual border.

This is why I continue to press the U.S. government to stop taking private property and stop wasting our tax dollars on a multi-BILLION dollar boondoggle built a mile or more inland from the river that does not deter or prevent anyone or anything from entering the US illegally. Stop destroying critical habitat. Stop building a concrete and steel cleaver that divides the land, and traps and kills wildlife in wildfire and flooding events. Stop spraying a known carcinogen, Imazapyr, in the river — our public water supply — to kill the Carrizo cane. Stop contracting with for-profit prisons, inventors of the new plantation system in the USA. And stop driving residents and legitimate businesses away from the river when evidence-based, community policing research proves the very presence of vested community members enhances border security.

Executive Director of the National Butterfly Center. Reluctant activist. Passionate hija de la frontera and dual citizen.

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