DEL RIO, Texas, Sept.21 (Reuters) – Many residents of the Texas border town of Del Rio have been saying for months they feel abandoned by the federal government as border arrests soar in 20 years .
Now, with several thousand migrants housed in precarious conditions under the international bridge connecting Del Rio and Ciudad Acuña in Mexico, resentment is escalating.
On Friday evening, a local lawyer posted a post on Facebook saying local school district buses were transferring migrants, mostly Haitians, to processing facilities.
“THE SAME BUSES OUR CHILDREN WILL DRIVE ON MONDAY !!!!” Jacques De La Mota wrote alongside photos of a yellow school bus appearing to be picking up migrants in the dark.
De La Mota’s post was shared at least 1,400 times and received more than 300 comments, including many from local residents who said they were concerned about the illnesses. But some denounced what they said was thinly veiled racism. “This post gives me vibes of segregation,” one comment read.
The local school district superintendent released a statement explaining that only two buses, currently used to transport students, had been deployed.
De La Mota told Reuters he was simply concerned about health and angry that the district had been drafted to help solve a federal problem.
The outcry over school buses is just one example of the discontent over immigration to this city of 35,000, where some 85% of the community is Hispanic and the nearby Laughlin Air Force Base is a large employer. .
Many residents are also furious at the closure of the international bridge, ordered on Friday due to the migrant crowd, which is inflicting economic suffering on both sides of the border.
A small group demonstrated on Saturday, a woman waving a sign reading “BIDEN BORDER CRISIS”. A Reuters reporter saw a black van crisscrossing the city with a “FUCK BIDEN” flag. Another driver, crossing the bridge while it was still open last week, watched the crowded migrants and complained that residents of Del Rio might as well move to Mexico.
BIDEN ON THE REAR FOOT
Val Verde County, whose county seat is Del Rio, favored Donald Trump over Joe Biden by a ten-point margin in the 2020 election, with some endorsement of his tough immigration policies. The mayor of Del Rio, Bruno Lozano, did not hesitate to challenge his colleague Democratic President.
“Where is your plan to protect American communities on the southern border? Lozano tweeted on Saturday. “I spoke to Governor Abbott today. We have developed a temporary plan, we would like to see yours.”
Arguing that Biden’s promise of a more “humane” approach to migration galvanized the crossings, Greg Abbott, a Republican, clamped down.
Among his measures: apprehending migrants for allegedly entering private property and preparing to build part of the border wall promised by Trump, whose construction Biden has been halted.
Abbott, who faces a governor’s primary in March, has been criticized for his response to a devastating February storm and his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. The border issue could be a boon for him and for Republicans in general, said James Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin.
“That’s a good question for Republicans because it taps into a growing nativist sentiment in the Texas GOP,” Henson said.
De La Mota, himself a descendant of Mexicans who immigrated several generations ago, is a registered Democrat who said the border crisis meant Biden could no longer automatically count on his vote. “This leads me to reconsider what I would do in the next cycle,” he said.
School board member Joshua D. Overfelt, who wrote in a statement opposing the bus request because there was no guarantee the migrants would not be carriers of “multiple diseases,” said that while he felt sorry for the asylum seekers, he had to balance that with the overwhelming sense of the residents.
He recalled his father’s fear in May when he entered his barn towards his tractor and discovered 13 Mexican migrants hiding there.
“The community is just caught in the middle,” he told Reuters.
Of course, there are also residents of Del Rio who are mobilizing to help migrants.
Some 35 residents volunteer at Del Rio’s only facility to deal with migrants, said Tiffany Burrow, the director of operations. Burrow said there are “misconceptions” in the community about their work, including false assumptions that the organization pays for migrants’ travel to the United States.
“We’re not focusing so much on the political aspect but more on the idea of helping our neighbor,” Burrow said. “When you do it for that reason, it’s not that controversial.”
Writing by Alexandra Ulmer Editing by Sonya Hepinstall
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