Donald Trump’s pitch for The Wall is not popular in McAllen, TX. The problem is not as much immigrants crossing the Rio Grande illegally every day, which they do. It’s the concertina wire that the U.S. military sent by Trump left behind.
“They came and put concertina wire around the bridges and didn’t even ask us,” Mayor Jim Darling told the local press this past Sunday. He said the rolls of razor wire gave the town a bad image. “We started to take them down after they left, but there’s still a lot left.”
Just about nobody wants the wall in McAllen or thinks it’s going to change anything for the better if it’s built. Experience shows that there is a humanitarian crisis up and down this frontier, but almost everything Trump proclaims he wants to do is making it worse.
Last fall, Border Patrol Agent Marcelino Medina told The Daily Beast that crossings have increased over the last year, and in this part of Texas at least it looks as if the dire threats to immigrants have only increased the flow.
“For October 2018, apprehensions totaled 20,754,” said Medina. That’s compared to 9,000 in October 2017. But dealing with an average of 5,000 immigrants crossing the Rio Grande a week is not that hard to deal with if there are enough personnel on the ground. “We need more manpower,” he said.
Back in the town of McAllen, the ICE facility is overfilled and migrants are now being whisked through, if they have a relative in the U.S., dropped off at the Greyhound bus station, or taken around the corner to what’s called the respite center if they don’t have the money for the bus ticket.
Last August, at the center run by Sister Norma Pimentel, I watched an average of 300 migrants coming in every morning. Pimentel provided showers, food, rest and what she strives for most, a restored sense of “dignity” for the migrants who have been left on their own, after grueling months long trek, days in ICE detention and the sudden jolt of a Greyhound bus they’ve never seen in their life.
They don’t speak English. There are little children, mothers, elderly people. All huddle frightened but conditioned to follow whatever they are told to do and then face the next ordeal. They have weathered more obstacles than any human should, and still they continue. “We don’t care what Trump says or thinks,” said one, echoing a common refrain. “We want to come to the U.S. It’s where we have hope to put a roof over our heads, get jobs, just have some security for our family.”
The refrain doesn’t stop. It didn’t stop in Tijuana despite the welcoming reception of tear gas and riot police. It hasn’t stopped there now, though shelters are being closed, one after the other on the Mexican side at the San Diego border.
It hasn’t deterred the thousands fleeing the brutal, narcotics-run governments in Central America, all of which have received U.S. support. Not scrutiny. Trump’s accusations that the worst of all criminals, narco traffickers, killers, etc. are coming across the border are astounding. They’re the ones who are sitting in government offices and wealthy neighborhoods in Central America. You won’t find them crossing the border on foot. They don’t go through borders. How long is that going to take to sink in?
Take Fabio Porfirio Lobo, son of former Honduran President Porfirio Lobo Sosa, caught coming on a private jet to Haiti to collect a $1 million commission for a Colombia cartel deal. Take the present Honduran president’s brother, Juan Antonio “Tony” Hernandez Alvarado, caught last November by the DEA as he waltzed through Miami International Airport, and there are countless others.
Then there’s Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, caught before he could take flight one last time. The most notorious cartel leader is now singing and heads will be falling throughout the region, but none of them would have been stopped by a wall.
The administration is not connecting the dots. Why are Central Americans fleeing? Because for decades, their countries have been turned into narco empires, submitting their mostly poor population to do their bidding or face unimaginable ends, a cruelty only likened to the inquisition’s trials in the 16th century.
Rey Castellanos’ wife, Norma, tells of how her brother disappeared. Through a river of tears, she says he was taken by the gangs while fishing on a river with friends. One fled and survived to tell the story. Norma’s brother was tortured because he refused to join the gang. They dismembered him, but kept him alive, buried under a pile of leaves. He tried to get help, but couldn’t move. Slowly, in excruciating agony, he died. His mangled body was found and dropped at the local morgue. Weeks of searching and questions to the police by his parents had led nowhere. The beleaguered family hoped he would surface. And surface he did in the form of a disfigured, pile of human flesh and bones.
Norma can’t continue to tell the story. But her husband, sitting under a makeshift tent in San Pedro Tapanatepec along with thousands of refugees marching to the U.S last October, said he’d been visited by the gang, not just because of his wife’s brother’s killing, but because he’d witnessed another killing, two years earlier on a road going home.
He fled to Mexico, but the Mexicans turned him around and dropped him “like a dog” at the Honduran border. So when news came that a caravan was forming in Honduras last October, they took their two small sons and left everything behind. After a three month journey, they are now sitting in the Benito Juarez stadium in Tijuana, ordered to leave within the next three days with nowhere to go. I reached Rey through a network of cellphones that migrants have set up which works sometimes, if the phones are charged. He told me he had applied for asylum in Mexico. The dream to get to the U.S. was, by now, a nightmare.
They had survived but the very thought of going back to Honduras, they are convinced, guarantees a brutal death.
Back to McAllen. Every day, groups of 20 to 50 immigrants are brought to the river by “coyotes” who know they just need to get across those 15 feet of water and up into the dense shrubbery to reach the U.S., where the Border Patrol is waiting for them. They’ll pay the smugglers whatever they have left. Some coyotes have even stripped the migrants down to their bare undergarments. They’ll go through that last abuse, but just staring at the other side of the Rio Grande, there’s no price anymore. As the small groups come up through a bank of cacti, thorny bushes and blistering shrubs, the little faces emerge… four, five, eight years old, burned cheeks, caked hair, eyes full of tears, looking up, squinting through the blinding Texas midday sun, scared to death of what awaits again.
Border Patrol Officer Medina and his men and women go through the process of explaining what’s next. The frightened group sits on the burning dirt road, trying to do what they are told, pulling out IDs from muddy plastic bags. They look up…silently. Somewhere deep inside, they’ve reached the safety of the U.S.
Another caravan is rumored to set foot out of San Pedro Sula, January 18. They number 15,000 according to local press reports. This time, they are not going to Tijuana, but Reinosa and the Texas border, McAllen.
By the time they reach the U.S. border, Trump’s wall most probably will be history. It’s already built anyway to all intents and purposes — there are no shortages of barriers. He’s only made it his own. In McAllen, the “wall” of concertina wire across the bridge is gone, and it wasn’t the immigrants who took it down, it was the Americans of the town.