Eagle Pass, Texas is a small Mexican immigrant community on the United States-Mexico border that, up until recent years, was known for almost nothing. In the mix of Spanglish, pedestrian crossings to Piedras Negras, Mexico, and nachos, Eagle Pass somehow got tangled in Operation Lone Star.
In March 2021, Texas Governor Greg Abbott put into effect his border security initiative, Operation Lone Star, to address the rising border crossings. Operation Lone Star gives the state of Texas the authority to deploy Texas Department of Public Safety officers and the Texas National Guard to border counties. OLS has also allowed for the state to place shipping containers along the Rio Grande riverbanks along with concertina wire and a 1000-feet-long buoy system in the middle of the river.
OLS has led the Texas DPS to bring forward criminal affidavits to landowners with properties along the riverbanks, allowing them to arrest migrants on those properties. DPS even went as far as requesting that the mayor of Eagle Pass, Rolando Salinas, sign a criminal affidavit making the public and city-owned Shelby Park private property, which he did
Shelby Park is placed right next to the river with a public boat ramp to access the Rio Grande and is a staple of Eagle Pass culture. Events such as the Fourth of July celebrations and Noches Mexicans, a series of concerts aimed to highlight the positive relationship between Eagle Pass and Piedras Negras, are hosted at the park. The criminal affidavit and the presence of law enforcement has caused Shelby Park to become inaccessible to the residents of Eagle Pass.
OLS has done nothing but make Eagle Pass a political prop.
I have lived in Eagle Pass, Texas my entire life and the Eagle Pass I know is not unsafe or riddled with crime. The Eagle Pass I know is a community of hard-working immigrant families with a rich culture and deep connections to our bordering Mexican city.
According to the Texas DPS Uniform Crime Reporting System, the crime rates in Maverick County, which Eagle Pass is a part of, went down by -0.82% from 2021 to 2022. Abbott claims that migrant crossings are increasing crime and are a threat in border communities, but the real threat is OLS.
The increasing law enforcement in Eagle Pass and other border communities has led to more Latinos receiving driving citations. NBC News reports that traffic citations have increased significantly from 2019 and 2020 to 2021 and 2022, aligning with the implementation of OLS. Migrants are not making Eagle Pass residents feel unsafe, the constant unprovoked patrolling of our community is.
The consequences of Abbott’s initiative go beyond traffic citations but extend to damaging our community’s only source of drinking water. In order to install the buoy system into the river, five natural river islands and other vegetation were bulldozed and cement pillars were installed inside of the river. This is causing severe damage to an already strained ecosystem by changing the direction of the water and creating erosion on the riverbanks.
Our people and our water are being violated.
Abbott thought that he could target a small community and let it go unnoticed, but Eagle Pass and other communities on the border are fighting back. The Eagle Pass Border Coalition, which I am a proud member of, is an organization determined to educate and fight for the Rio Grande border that has been fighting back against Abbott’s political stunt. The coalition has expressed concerns to the City Council and organized demonstrations.
The living conditions of Eagle Pass are being compromised so Abbott can rile up his base. Abbott and other politicians in Austin are making policy about the border when they have no idea what it is like to live on the border. The border and communities like Eagle Pass are not a campaign promise, we are the people working, learning and living on the border, we have to deal with the everyday consequences.
What will the irreversible damage to our river do? What kind of generational trauma will residents of Eagle Pass have to deal with? These are the questions Abbott and Texans should be asking themselves.
Our taxes are being used to promote xenophobic rhetoric and take the lives of innocent migrants. Eagle Pass deserves better, border communities deserve better, Texas deserves better.
Growing up, when my younger brother used to play soccer at the fields in Shelby Park, which are now dismantled and unkept, his team accidentally kicked a ball into the Rio Grande and a resident of Piedras Negras fishing by the river threw it back over to us. That is what our community is tragically losing because of OLS.
Ultimately, politicians should not be using the border to make a political statement but Eagle Pass and border communities as a whole will continue to fight until we get the justice and respect we deserve. The border can be secured without cruelty and without hurting the communities along the border.
Photo credit: Tricia Cortez
Featured photo credit: Karyme Flores
Karyme Flores can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org