EAGLE PASS, Texas (Border Report) — One of two international bridges remained closed to traffic for the second day on Thursday, creating long lines at the other bridge and frustrating residents who were surprised that an emergency declaration was issued in this border town.
Eagle Pass Mayor Rolando Salinas on Wednesday night issued an emergency declaration he said due to the thousands of asylum-seekers who are streaming across the Rio Grande from Piedras Negras, Mexico.
The declaration came just hours after a 3-year-old boy drowned trying to cross the Rio Grande with his family just north of the buoy marine barricade the State of Texas has put up here, according to Texas Department of Safety Spokeswoman Ericka Miller.
Over 4,000 migrants this week are believed to have crossed into this small border city of just 30,000 residents.
The Maverick County Sheriff said 2,700 were apprehended on Wednesday and being held under International Bridge No. 2 after crossing the river and claiming asylum.
By Thursday, and with temperatures over 100 degrees, the migrants sat under the shade of the bridge on the dusty banks of the Rio Grandehundreds. The entire distance from the highway to the river was full of asylum-seekers. Porta potties and water stations were set up and officers prevented onlookers.
Members of the National Guard, Texas Department of Public Safety troopers, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers and Border Patrol agents surrounded the migrants, as helicopters flew overhead, all forms of law enforcement patrolled the streets and border, and media from across the world descended on this small border town.
A mile upriver, International Bridge No. 1 was shuttered to all traffic. However, pedestrians could walk south into Mexico, as well as bicyclists.
But once they cross, they cannot return, at least not at this border city.
One woman who did not want to give her name said her daughter left her passport and identification for her and her son at her house and she was desperate to get it to her but she did not want to drive to Mexico for fear the other bridge would close and she would not be able to return to the United States.
“I cannot cross with my car,” bartender Juan Muncito, 46, said as he stood waiting for a ride near the bridge. “It’s like a dead town downtown. And it’s probably going to be like that for several days. It’s just unexplainable what’s going on. It’s a ghost town.”
Most of the migrants crossing are Venezuelans.
The Biden administration on Wednesday extended Temporary Protective Status to Venezuelans, but they must have arrived before July 31.
“Temporary protected status provides individuals already present in the United States with protection from removal when the conditions in their home country prevent their safe return,” Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said
Hundreds of migrants have been riding trains north through Mexico, fueled by rumors that officials in Central and South America plan to close access to the Darrien Gap in Panama, which is where many traverse in their journeys to get to the U.S. border.
Amerika Garcia-Grewal, a lifelong resident of Eagle Pass who runs a monthly border vigil to honor those who died crossing the river, says she is upset that her hometown has been turned into a militarized zone. “It’s like a war zone,” she said.
“It’s political theater. Most of what’s going on is performative and does not address the real issues of the situation, which is climate change. And this is the first wave of what will be endless waves of humanity trying to move around the world,” she told Border Report.
Standing in front of a 1,000-foot-long string of buoys the State of Texas this summer put in the Rio Grande at a cost of $1 million, she says that money could be better spent ensuring that all residents in Maverick County have running water, internet and good schools.
“We need to decide how we’re going to welcome people and also how we treat people is going to set the standards for how we, here in Texas, are treated when we have to go to cooler climates. Will North Dakota say, ‘We won’t have you, we’re too populated?'” she said.
The Mission Border Hope shelter, which assists migrants, was scheduled to open a new facility on Thursday but Garcia-Grewal said that was postponed due to the town’s current situation.
A security guard stood at the entrance to the facility on Thursday evening and some migrants milled around outside asking where they can go for help.
The two other locations are still operating but at capacity, she said, and they are in need of medical aid supplies, like walkers, crutches and wheelchairs. She said many migrants hurt their legs trying to cross the razor wire that state has also placed on the banks of the Rio Grande.
Federal officials reportedly cut sections of the wire as they tried to get to migrants this week.
That prompted Texas Gov. Greg Abbott to tweet on Thursday: “Texas will continue to install more razor wire and fortify the border against illegal crossings. We will not back down.”
He also tweeted “We are refusing to let them in and sending them back” to an image posted of a group of migrants who were south of the razor wire in the water on Thursday.
Border Report saw a group of over a dozen cross together in shoulder-length water, lifting bags above their heads. But when they got to the U.S. shore and were attempting to cross the razor wire, a Border Patrol boat came and stopped them.
“We have an incredible force here on the river. This is the epicenter of Operation Lone Star and yet we still have so many people crossing. It is colossal failure. It is a total failure,” Garcia-Grewal said.
The emergency declaration will remain in effect until Sept. 27 unless the Eagle Pass City Council votes to extend it.
Sandra Sanchez can be reached at SSanchez@BorderReport.com.