With their two children on their shoulders, Wilfredo and Nataly jump into the Rio Grande from the Mexican shore. The water is up to their waists. They avoid the line of buoys placed by the state of Texas to block their passage and make their way to the United States.
Coming from Piedras Negras, in the state of Coahuila, they’re heading across the river at Eagle Pass, a south Texas town whose governor, Republican Greg Abbott, has militarized to stem the flow of migrants.
In Texas, the Rio Grande is the natural border with Mexico. It’s Friday, it’s two o’clock in the afternoon, the wind temperature is over 40 degrees Celsius, and the military vehicle that used to guard the area is no longer there.
The orange buoys extend for about 300 meters. They are designed to spin if someone tries to grab them, and they have serrated metal discs on each side. Two bodies have been found in the sector in recent weeks.
The family of Wilfredo Riera, a 26-year-old Venezuelan, crosses the river with more than a dozen migrants, far from the buoys. “They had told us (about the buoys), but they told us that they didn’t mark the whole area; there was an access point,” he says.
“We want to give up on ourselves,” says Wilfredo. But there are no guards yet. All you can hear is the soft squeaking of the lizards hiding in the riparian vegetation. A hot wind is blowing.
In front of them is a fence about three meters high, also with barbed wire, which the migrants cover with their clothing to be able to get to the other side.
Nataly Barrionuevo, 39, sits on the fence, waiting for her husband Wilfredo to catch up with their children. Yeiden, two years old, and Nicolás, seven Some have their pants torn by wires, but they are already in the United States.
Nataly, an Ecuadorian, lived in Ecuador with Wilfredo and their children. They left the country a month and a half ago in search of work and better living conditions, crossing the Darien jungle from Colombia to Panama on their way.
A border police van pulls up and kicks up dust. In Spanish, an officer asks them to show their documents.
They just search the men and put everyone in a vehicle that goes to a detention center. There, it will be checked to see whether it is possible to process your asylum application. If so, they will enter the country temporarily pending a judge’s review of their case. If not, they will be deported.
“We want to work to give them a future,” says Nataly, pointing to her little ones before her voice breaks.
By jumping over the fence, the migrants enter Heavenly Farms, the private property of the Urbina couple, pecan farmers. Their territory has direct access to the river where the buoys now float and is fully fenced and guarded by the Texas military.
Although they don’t like it, they have no choice but to accept it, admits Magali Urbina, 52.
“My husband and I do not believe in open borders. But we also don’t think we should treat people inhumanely,” she says.
We wish the federal government would do more to prevent this. When you see someone crossing, don’t say, “Wait, you can’t be here.” That’s not our first human instinct, he argues.
The US Department of Justice sued Texas to remove the buoys. He considers it a humanitarian and diplomatic problem because it violates border treaties with Mexico.
Texas had to rearrange them last week because they raided the Mexican side.
The case is already under review in federal court.
“We have the authority to do what we are doing, to protect the border,” said Abbott, who blames the Joe Biden administration for the country’s immigration crisis. Governors of other conservative states that consider this part of Texas a “war zone” have sent troops to support him.
Abbott “created an environment here that makes it feel like a war zone,” says Jessie Fuentes, 62, owner of Epi’s Canoe & Kayak Team, which offered tours on the river. “I had to close; no one wants to get into the river like that. I ask for respect for humanity and the river,” he adds.
“That’s not how we treat people.”
Robie Flores, 36, was born and raised in Eagle Pass. He remembers his childhood in Shelby Park, on the riverbank. They went on picnics, dipped their feet in water, or went sailing. It was customary to greet people from one bank to the other with the residents of Piedras Negras. But that has changed.
“This is not our community. And that’s not how we treat people. It’s very sad to see. Immigrants are rounded up like cattle. We’re a frontier community, and that,” he says, pointing to the wires, “isn’t who we are.”.