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Biden heads to a border city where immigration is a ‘mixed bag’

In World
February 29, 2024

Adhlemy Sanchez Martinez is disturbed by the dust blowing into her Brownsville, Texas, neighborhood from a nearby dirt mining facility. Nathan Burkhart is focused on keeping local talent in the city and the Rio Grande Valley to grow the local economy. Mauricio Piña is using his marketing skills to try to improve local educators’ voter turnout.

As President Joe Biden prepares for his Thursday visit to Brownsville — some 300 miles southeast of Eagle Pass, where former President Donald Trump plans to be on the same day — Sanchez, Burkhart and Piña are enmeshed in a variety of issues they say are more directly impacting their lives than immigration.

But as much as Brownsville residents hope the nation will see that their city is more than what is often depicted in media, Biden plans to use the visit to drive the message that Republicans, at Trump’s urging, killed a bipartisan bill that would have brought some resources to the area for immigration enforcement, tightened asylum eligibility and given him authority to “shut down the border.” Trump will be delivering a very different message, steering it away from the congressional impasse and putting the blame of the immigration overflow on the Biden administration’s immigration policies.

Migrants cross the Matamoros-Brownsville International Bridge (Alfredo Estrella / AFP - Getty Images file)

Migrants cross the Matamoros-Brownsville International Bridge (Alfredo Estrella / AFP – Getty Images file)

In this part of the country, there’s much more perception of immigration as a mixed bag. Here there are families who may be a generation removed from immigration to the U.S. while also having a family member who is in the Border Patrol. People move back-and-forth each day to attend school in the U.S. or see a dentist in Matamoros, just across the border. They also understand there is danger in some of the people and goods — such as guns and drugs — that head in either direction.

“This has been happening for quite some time,” said Sanchez, a mother of two works in IT and was born and raised in Brownsville. “It always seem to be in the back burner until it’s an election year.”

Sanchez said she’s been spending most of her time trying to get officials’ attention to do something about the dust and silica blowing from the mining site into her neighborhood. She worries of what it’s doing to her health and her children’s.

But she also is concerned about her children’s future as more and more migrants arrive and law enforcement is unable to fully process them, she said.

These days, migration is in a lull in the Customs and Border Protection’s Rio Grande Valley sector, which includes Brownsville. Border Patrol encounters were down 23% last month over January 2023.

Biden has been under fire for much of his administration amid record numbers of border crossings since he lifted a Covid-era border shutdown implemented by Trump. However, data shows that illegal crossings increased as Trump shut off legal pathways to enter.

The pressure for Biden to take action on immigration intensified when Republican governors started shipping migrants released by Border Patrol to Democratic-controlled cities and states, strapping resources there and prompting outcry from Democratic officials in those cities.

Border Patrol agent Chris Cabrera, the local representative for the Border Patrol Council in the border city of McAllen, told Noticias Telemundo 40 that he welcomed Biden visit because “hopefully we can get things fixed.”

“The bad thing is when anything becomes political, it becomes divided and there are real people that suffer through this,” Cabrera said.

“They need to stop fighting and realize the reason they took that job in D.C. was to fix things and to make positive change, not for their constituents or a small group or large group but for the United States,” he said.

Rio Grande River (Julio Cortez / AP file)

Rio Grande River (Julio Cortez / AP file)

Sanchez, the daughter of an immigrant, said that while she understands the desperation of people coming from other countries, the fear that the Trump administration instilled at the border seemed to bring more control, she said.

She said she would have liked Congress to pass the bipartisan border bill because “yes, it needed work, but we need the resources now.”

Burkhart, who was also born and raised in Brownsville, said he’s seen educational opportunity improve in his hometown — success no longer has to depend on moving elsewhere to attend school, he said. An economic developer, he works to identify local talent and help seed startups whose creators might otherwise go to Austin or San Antonio.

“I’m hoping, if anything, [that Biden’s visit] moves the needle for Congress or somebody to act,” said Burkhart. Lack of action from Congress or the president has allowed “the current state government to create their own narrative and their own political theater — if no one is taking the lead on it, why are they not to do it their own way, as terrible as it is?”

The images of floating buoys with razor wires in the Rio Grande near Eagle Pass and of concertina wire installed along sections of the border has cast an enormous shadow over the progress in the Rio Grande Valley region, he said.

Charro Days, an annual fiesta celebrated in Brownsville, Texas in late February (Courtesy Charro Days)

Charro Days, an annual fiesta celebrated in Brownsville, Texas in late February (Courtesy Charro Days)

Biden will arrive in Brownsville at one of its most celebratory times of the year: The city’s annual Charro Days, which are apolitical, will be underway. The festival celebrates the Mexican cowboy heritage, the Mexican American culture and the area’s ties with Mexico. Former President Barack Obama visited one of Charro Days’ events, the Sombrero Festival, in 2008.

Business owner and Navy veteran Mauricio Piña said that as enforcement has toughened, it’s become more difficult for people from across the border to come and join in the celebration, which has visible economic and social impacts for the city.

Piña said he sees more people crossing the border and waiting for a bus out of town, but he’s also seen fewer business people coming from Mexico to work in the city because of the greater hassle to get through the border inspections.

“There’s some frustration that nothing gets done in this area,” said Piña, who operates a marketing business and has done work for local campaigns for both parties.

There is big opportunity in the area with Elon Musk’s Space X launch site now located in the city and the robust trade with Matamoros, Mexico. Mexico is now U.S.’ No. 1 trading partner, he said.

Charro Day Illuminated Parade (Mark Felix / Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Charro Day Illuminated Parade (Mark Felix / Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Alvaro Corral, a political science assistant professor at University of Texas at Rio Grande Valley, said the Senate bipartisan bill would have been well-supported by average Rio Grande Valley residents because of the resources for Border Patrol.

“People tend to have a pretty positive view on the whole of Border Patrol in terms of their ability to provide security for people every day and a sort of sense of stability at the border,” he said. There is also an understanding of how security helps students to cross the border from Mexico to attend UTRGV or cross from Brownsville to Matamoros to see family, he said.

“These are communities that have done this for a long time, right, being able to both chew gum and walk at the same time, in terms of ‘let’s process people in an orderly fashion but also let’s be sensible about the reality of our communities’ and allow people to come back-and-forth and treat people respectfully,” he said.

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This article was originally published on NBCNews.com

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