Border Dynamics

Recently I have overheard a lot of talk at Lakeside about the USA southern border and U.S. border policy. As one who lives on the border part of the year, in El Paso, Texas, I have some observations that may differ from what is communicated in the mainstream press that seems to form the basis for the talking points in many of  those overheard conversations.  

Present-day El Paso, Texas, and Ciudad Juárez, México, make up the area sometimes known locally as “Borderplex.” It is the convergence of two countries (the USA and México), three cities (El Paso, Texas; Ciudad Juárez, México; Santa Teresa, New Mexico) and three states (Texas, New Mexico, and the Mexican state of Chihuahua). The Rocky Mountains pass through the region and the Rio Grande flows through it as well, leaving a pass through the mountains known long ago as El Paso del Norte. This convergence is not only geographical, but also of three cultures, as the Tigua Indians have made their home in this valley for centuries. This cultural blending is unique to this area and has existed since the first Spanish explorers arrived in 1598, and was one of the things that drew my wife and me to move to this area.   

We moved to El Paso 21 years ago, and I have had a business there since the early ‘80s. When we first arrived, the U.S. border with México was all but invisible. There was even a trolley that went back and forth between El Paso and Juárez called the “Border Jumper.” Many people, including myself and my wife, would frequently go across the Rio Grande to Ciudad Juárez for dinner in one of the excellent restaurants there. No one was concerned about safety, and people went back and forth at will. Passports were not needed to cross then.

This situation was interrupted starting in the early ‘90s with expanding cartel violence, when the murder rate in Juárez became one of the highest of any major city in the world.

At the same time, El Paso was recognized as the safest city of over 500,000 in the USA. The contrast could not have been greater.

Virtually all of the restaurants in Juárez moved to El Paso, and except for people who worked in the manufacturing operations in Juárez, no one in EL Paso went to Juárez.

After 9-11, the security requirements for cross-border travel were increased, eventually including a valid passport. Borderplex became a divided place in order to maintain security and to keep the U.S. safe. 

At the same time, truck traffic continued without major interruptions. There are five industrial parks in Juárez that produce products for many major brands, which are brought via trucks to El Paso where the logistics warehouses are located. From there they are dispersed to North American destinations.

Illegal crossings into the USA from México were largely under control by the Border Patrol, as fencing and a wall along part of the border reduced the volume of those crossing, and those who did not qualify to be in the USA were immediately deported.

 Ranchers on the border occasionally saw some of this traffic, as did the humanitarian organizations near the border that also encountered a few each week who crossed undetected by the Border Patrol. Many of these were just visiting families that resided on both sides of the border but did not have the legal status to pass back and forth.

I served as the chairman of the board of one of those faith-based humanitarian organizations for nine years where we, without asking any questions, provided free hot lunches, used clothing from our thrift store, and food baskets to those in need. Many of those seeking our services were just poor people from Juárez who could not get help there.

We also partnered with the Rotary Club to provide a health clinic on our campus that provided basic health care without cost or questions about immigration status. Doctors from the University Health Center volunteered their time and pharmaceutical companies provided drugs to the clinic that were dispensed without cost. 

On one occasion when there was a large influx of Cuban refugees seeking asylum in the U.S., we housed them in the dormitory on our campus, helped them with their legal matters, provided food and clothing, and conducted ESL classes. This was an isolated case and there were a few hundred, not the thousands from over 100 countries as there are now. Also, there were unique asylum rules for Cuban refugees who made it to the U.S. by land whereby they could obtain legal residency status upon entry. There were vetting requirements in place for the Cubans seeking asylum then that are not being observed now.

The border between El Paso and Juárez remained manageable until the current administration took office. On the first day of the new administration all of the border policies of the prior administration were rescinded. The number of illegal crossings increased dramatically almost immediately and the shelters that serve this population were overwhelmed.

Several hotels in El Paso were leased for the sole purpose of housing these people until they could be transported to other locations of their choice in the USA. A large vacant warehouse was obtained and fitted out to temporarily house these people. A stream of buses passed in and out of it throughout the day. Virtually none of the migrants want to remain in El Paso. Some migrants were observed running across I-10 in heavy traffic, creating a dangerous situation to themselves and others.

In September 2023 over a quarter of a million were apprehended crossing our southern border. In Texas alone over 11,000 were processed in one day. Half of the southern border between the U.S. and México is in Texas (about 1,250 miles). When 1,500 migrants crossed in a single day, the city of El Paso reached the breaking point. El Paso Mayor Oscar Leeser (D) declared an emergency and called for D.C. to react by securing the border. El Paso’s downtown area nearest the border became filled with people living on the streets. The city also chartered buses to transport migrants to the cities of their choice to relieve the strain on El Paso’s resources. On September 23 Reuters reported: “‘The dramatic increase in migrants crossing the U.S. border from México has pushed the city of El Paso, Texas, to ‘a breaking point,’ with more than 2,000 people per day seeking asylum, exceeding shelter capacity and straining resources,’ its mayor said on Saturday. ‘The city of El Paso only has so many resources and we have come to . . . a breaking point right now,’ Mayor Oscar Leeser said at a news conference.”

Managing the flow of illegal immigrants also disrupted the flow of trucks between Juárez and El Paso. A weekly publication titled “BORDER NOW” in an October 3, 2023, article stated the following: “EL PASO, TX – The migratory crisis that has kept cargo crossings closed at the Cordova-Americas bridge at the Ciudad Juárez-El Paso border would have left losses of up to US$871.33 million in the period from September 18 to 30, according to the Secretary of Innovation and Economic Development (SIDE) of the state of Chihuahua.”

According to SIDE information, on September 30 there was a traffic of 439 cargo vehicles on the Zaragoza-Ysleta bridge and 658 on the Jeronimo-Santa Teresa bridge, with 19 transports unable to cross. These figures give a total of 13,405 trucks that have not been able to cross the international bridges.

 “During this period, the Zaragoza Bridge had an accumulated traffic flow of 7,769 vehicles, 2,596 at Guadalupe and 12,635 at Jeronimo. In the same period, there was a total traffic of 23,101 units and it is estimated that more than 13,300 trucks were stopped.”

As bad as the migrant situation had gotten in El Paso, it is even worse in the small border town of Eagle Pass, Texas, whose population is about 28,000 compared to over 700,000 in El Paso. They are experiencing even more illegal crossings each day than El Paso and the situation there is desperate. There have been several drownings there, too, adding to the desperation.

The Border Patrol is overwhelmed with just processing all of these people at several major crossing points, and even though the National Guard is assisting them, they are still in need of more help. In September they were faced with processing over 11,000 who arrived in a single day. This leaves large sections of open border with no one to intercept those who cross there.

The cartels are well aware that much of the border is now wide open for smuggling, human trafficking, and other illegal activity. The number of migrants there is unknown, but law enforcement in rural border counties—such as the sheriff of Cochise County, Arizona—report large numbers are moving through their territory and they have limited resources to respond.

Ranchers near the border east of El Paso are being overrun by illegals crossing their property. These are all so-called “got-aways” that are not seeking asylum, but just want to get into our country without legal status. Many of these are criminals or who owe a debt to the cartels that they can work off by doing their bidding.    

Many border checkpoints are now either unmanned or undermanned, compromising the checkpoints away from the border where large amounts of drugs were previously intercepted. Border Patrol agents have been pulled from these facilities to perform administrative processing duties where large numbers of migrants are crossing. These checkpoints were the U.S.’s last defense against illegal drugs that are now pouring into our country.

All I know is what I have experienced personally and what I hear from border patrol friends and ranchers on the border who are friends of mine. I find this to be very different than what is either underreported or not reported at all on the major networks. For those who say we do not have an open border, I would invite them to see what I see here on the border every day. We are living in the midst of a crisis. I dream of someday returning to the Borderplex  I found 40 years ago.

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Tim Eyermann
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