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American PARANOIA & fascism on the Canadian border…


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Author Topic: American PARANOIA & fascism on the Canadian border…  (Read 95 times)
Kiwithrottlejockey
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« on: June 02, 2016, 01:52:16 pm »


from The Washington Post....

Along the U.S.-Canada border, an invisible but hardening wall rises

By WILLIAM MARSDEN | 5:00AM EDT - Wednesday, June 01, 2016

Along this 620-yard stretch of Highway 247, called Canusa Street in Vermont and Rue Canusa in Quebec, the border runs more or less down the middle of the street. On the north side, you are in Canada. On the south, you are in the United States. — Photograph: William Marsden.
Along this 620-yard stretch of Highway 247, called Canusa Street in Vermont and Rue Canusa in Quebec,
the border runs more or less down the middle of the street. On the north side, you are in Canada.
On the south, you are in the United States. — Photograph: William Marsden.


STANSTEAD, QUEBEC — For some folks living in a cluster of small towns straddling the U.S.-Canada border here, life could not feel more comfortably secure.

Six Canadian and U.S. checkpoints service the 2½-mile stretch that cuts through the villages of Derby Line and Beebe Plain in Vermont and the town of Stanstead in Quebec. Street cameras, satellite and sensor surveillance, vehicle patrols and the occasional thumping helicopter overhead ensure that residents can't budge without someone watching.

It's no wonder that many don't bother to lock their doors.

“We really feel safe,” said Laurie Dubois, 56, an American living on the Canadian side. With the cameras and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, she noted, “there's not a whole lot of bad stuff going on.”

But the heightened security is a sign of the times that doesn't sit well with all of the residents in these once close-knit cross-border communities tucked into the northern highlands of the Appalachian Mountains.

“It's a pretty pain in the ass is what it is,” said Patrick Boisvert, 75, a machinist in Beebe Plain with a mathematics degree from St. Michael's College in Vermont.

Surveillance has grown stricter and more intrusive all along the 3,900-mile contiguous U.S. border with Canada since September 11th, 2001, creating a continent-wide gulf that many argue reflects a political parting of ways, as well — American conservatism vs. Canadian socialism, as defined by Canada's universal health care, maternity leave, tough gun laws, and subsidized day care and higher education.

But the burden borne by the Vermont-Quebec communities is unique. Residents linked by marriage, blood relations and, in many cases, dual citizenship are now separated by an invisible but hardening wall. Neighborhoods that once shared schools, sports facilities, doctors and churches in a kind of free-flowing human commerce have retreated to their own sides of the border.

Nowhere is the divide more apparent than along the 620-yard stretch of Highway 247 — called Canusa Street in Vermont and Rue Canusa in Quebec — where Boisvert has lived all of his life.

On Canusa, the border runs east-west more or less right down the middle of the street. Drive on the north side, going west, and you are in Canada. Drive east and you are in the United States.

Boisvert's father was a Canadian born in the small town of Rock Island (now Stanstead) just across from Derby Line. He married an American and moved to the white clapboard house in Beebe Plain where Patrick Boisvert still lives with his wife, Louise.


Patrick Boisvert, 75, a machinist in Beebe Plain, Vermont, with his wife, Louise. As a boy, Patrick's best friend was a Canadian who lived across Canusa Street. “Border? What border?” he said, contrasting the lack of checks back then with today's virtual wall. — Photograph: William Marsden.
Patrick Boisvert, 75, a machinist in Beebe Plain, Vermont, with his wife, Louise. As a boy, Patrick's best friend was
a Canadian who lived across Canusa Street. “Border? What border?” he said, contrasting the lack of checks back
then with today's virtual wall. — Photograph: William Marsden.


Boisvert said that when he was a child, his best friend was a Canadian who lived across Canusa Street. “So, hell, we were back and forth across that road 100 times a day. We didn't think about it. Border? What border? And now this shit that's going on.”

What Boisvert means is that every time he or his wife cross the street or drive off on an errand, they have to report in at the U.S. or Canadian border posts. It's the same for all 23 families on the street.

The border stations are close by, but often there are lines. The fine for not checking in is a steep $5,000 and/or two years in jail on the U.S. side and 1,000 Canadian dollars on the Canadian side. And there's no escaping the surveillance, he said.

Louise Boisvert said she no longer visits her Canadian neighbor Mylène.

“If we are going to talk to each other, she stands on her side, and I stand on mine,” she said. One time, “there was some sort of little domesticated rat that was following Mylène around over there, and she came over, she had her passport in her hand, and she said, ‘There's this rat, and I think it's somebody’s pet’. She wanted to find the owner. But she had to go and report and come over here and then she was going to have to go to the Canadian side to report back… I don't know what happened to the rat.”

Metal gates now block the north-south streets that once connected Derby Line and Stanstead.

In at least two cases, the border runs through homes, restricting access to back yards and forcing owners to seal off doors.

The Haskell Free Library and Opera House famously straddles the Derby Line-Stanstead frontier. A row of flowerpots denotes the border traversing the street that leads to the front door, which is in the United States. Most of the rest of the building is in Canada. Inside, black tape tracing the border runs diagonally through the children's section.

Here the border rules fall away. Canadians and Americans are permitted to access to the century-old brick building without having to check in with the border guards. Children enchanted by Peter Pan find their own version of Neverland.

Dual citizenship is common — a result of marriages and also the fact that many Canadians were born just across the border at the hospital in Newport, thus acquiring U.S. citizenship.

Where these people opted to live often reflects the divergent political and social paths the two countries have chosen.


The U.S.-Canadian border in Derby Line, Vermont, photographed in October 2009. Security has gradually hardened in the area — with gates, cameras, satellite surveillance and patrols — since September 11th, 2001. — Photograph: Alison Redlich/Associated Press.
The U.S.-Canadian border in Derby Line, Vermont, photographed in October 2009. Security has gradually hardened
in the area — with gates, cameras, satellite surveillance and patrols — since September 11th, 2001.
 — Photograph: Alison Redlich/Associated Press.


Laurie Dubois immigrated to Canada from Vermont in 1971, when her mother married a Canadian. Now she and her American husband operate a small cross-border business engraving tombstones. The area's granite quarries are a mainstay of the economically struggling region.

She said she would like to move back to the United States, because “Americans are more friendly,” but stays because of Canada's social safety nets, particularly its universal health care.

“It covers a lot of stuff that my husband deals with,” she said. “He has a heart problem, and he has an ileostomy. He has kidney problems.”

For Louise Boisvert, Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders “is our babe” because he wants to bring Canada's subsidized higher education, single-payer universal health care, higher minimum wage and paid maternity leave to the United States.

“It's time we started looking after our citizens,” she said.

But her husband says Sanders is “delusional” if he thinks the United States will adopt universal health coverage.

“I don't think you can change it,” he said. “Everything is too entrenched.”

With each generation, memories of a closer cross-border community have faded. Sylvain Matte, 43, is an engineer and machine designer who lives up the street from the Boisverts on the Canadian side.

He notes that he has had casual exchanges — barbecues and drinks around a bonfire — with his American neighbors, but nothing that approaches real friendship.

“For me, it's normal,” he said of the street.

His 18-year-old daughter, Vladimire, added that she had an American friend when she was small, but not anymore.

“Americans are different,” she said. “I can't really put my finger on why, but they are.”


__________________________________________________________________________

Related stories:

 • ‘What Canada is about’: Country gives a warm embrace to Syrian refugees

 • Scott Walker floats a U.S.-Canada border wall

 • Everything you ever wanted to know about Canadian health care

 • While other countries turn Syrian refugees away, Canadians are taking them home

 • A new transgender rights bill may take Canada in a different direction

 • Bernie Sanders takes a busload of women to Canada to buy cancer drugs

 • Canadian priest accused of gambling away $380,000 meant for refugees


https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/the_americas/along-the-us-canadian-border-frayed-ties-and-daily-hassles/2016/05/31/133230cc-241b-11e6-b944-52f7b1793dae_story.html
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« Reply #1 on: December 25, 2018, 12:37:28 am »


And at the opposite end of the country…



from the print edition of the Los Angeles Times…

LIFE ON THE LINE: A human dilemma on border

Help migrants or Border Patrol? It's a daily conflict for Roma, Texas, residents.

By MOLLY HENNESSY-FISKE | Sunday, December 16, 2018

Juan Silva of Roma, Texas, works on a car as a Border Patrol helicopter searches for immigrants in the town along the Rio Grande. — Photograph: Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times.
Juan Silva of Roma, Texas, works on a car as a Border Patrol helicopter searches for immigrants in the town along the Rio Grande.
 — Photograph: Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times.


THE BELL over the door at J.C. Ramirez rang on a slow Wednesday afternoon as Border Patrol agents in green uniforms entered the western-wear store looking for an immigrant mother and baby.

Owner Cecilia Benavides let the agents search the plywood dressing rooms, back office, shelves stacked with straw cowboy hats and racks of George Strait Wrangler dress shirts. They left empty-handed.

Moments later, the bell sounded again. In walked an unfamiliar woman, a baby in her arms. Benavides, 75, glanced at her sales clerk, unsure what to do.

In Roma, a major thoroughfare for illegal immigration on the Texas-Mexico border, encountering Border Patrol agents and the immigrants desperate to evade them is an inescapable part of life.

Residents repeatedly face legal and ethical questions: Do you help, and, if so, whom? The immigrants or the Border Patrol? Almost daily, they weigh fear against compassion, resentment against concern.

When a man arrived at Benavides' shop last year, soaked from the river and stinking after hiding all day in a trash can, she gave him fresh clothes and food in a hat box, so he wouldn't attract agents' attention. When Benavides saw the woman with the baby, she didn't call the Border Patrol either. Instead, she watched for signs of distress.

The woman didn't appear scared. She spoke Spanish, as do most people in Roma, asking about children's boots. And she posed another question: Why had Border Patrol agents approached her outside?

Benavides relaxed, explained who the agents were pursuing, and rang up $50 boots. She was spared having to make a decision.

Border Patrol agents once broke a shop window with their batons as they chased an immigrant. In November, a smuggler fleeing agents crashed his car into the store, cracking a wall. No one was injured, but Benavides was stuck with repair bills. She didn't intervene in either case.

This legal, ethical and moral question of whether to help immigrant or agent is a recurring theme in Roma, as a Los Angeles Times reporter and photographer discovered while living here this year. The pair stayed off and on in a house the L.A. Times rented half a block from the Rio Grande from July to October. They found that whether to aid immigrants or agents often triggered debates, sometimes within families.

When Thalia Munoz spotted a group of immigrants camped with three small children in a field opposite her porch, she didn't immediately call la patrulla fronteriza, as the Border Patrol is known.

“My husband and I were sitting outside debating: Do you call or not call?” said Munoz, 76, a hospital administrator.

She said no. He said yes. Ultimately, he called, concerned about the children's safety. The Border Patrol detained the group.

Growing up in Roma, Munoz never hesitated to help migrants. It was a town where everyone seemed to have ties, or relatives, in Mexico.

“It used to be they were coming for jobs from the border towns here. As long as I can remember, illegals would end up in your backyard and you fed them and gave them water and they'd leave,” she said. But that was before the rise of international drug cartels and gangs. “Things have changed so much, you're afraid. You don't know what their intentions are.”

Roma, population 11,400, is an immigration hot spot in the Rio Grande Valley, which accounted for 41% of those caught crossing the border illegally nationwide for the fiscal year that ended in September. It was here, in the southern tip of Texas, that President Trump and Governor Greg Abbott deployed the National Guard last spring and hundreds more troops in October to stop a caravan of Central American immigrants traveling through Mexico.


Border Patrol agents detain a Honduran mother and son. Distrust between agents and Roma residents is often mutual. — Photograph: Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times.
Border Patrol agents detain a Honduran mother and son. Distrust between agents and Roma residents is often mutual.
 — Photograph: Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times.


Donato Garza looks on as a Border Patrol agent searches for footprints. Some Roma residents say agents treat them with unfounded suspicion. — Photograph: Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times.
Donato Garza looks on as a Border Patrol agent searches for footprints. Some Roma residents say agents treat them with unfounded suspicion.
 — Photograph: Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times.


Dina Isabel Garcia-Peña often sees migrants stop at her husband's body shop, where she assembles El Tejano newspaper in a back office. She feels for them. “Most of us are only one or two generations away from being illegal immigrants,” she said.

Garcia-Peña has received death threats after writing articles critical of smugglers, and knows neighbors fear new Central American arrivals. But she also keeps water out for passing immigrants and has let them use her phone. She's seen the Border Patrol detain families with boys who resemble her 5-year-old son.

“I feel very conflicted,” she said.

Melissa De La Cruz, 39, a third-grade teacher and mother of three, lives a block from the river and is often approached by immigrants, some more insistent than others. Sometimes she alerts the Border Patrol, or la migra. Sometimes she doesn't.

She sympathizes with immigrants fleeing violence and knows they pay dearly to cross the border. A man she found hiding on her mother's back porch, a hairdresser from Mexico City, said he paid $10,000 to join his three brothers in Illinois. She didn't report him.

But when a pregnant immigrant approached De La Cruz outside her house a few years ago and offered $100 for a ride, the teacher panicked. “I'm not going to risk my certificate for you,” she said.

Instead, she gave the woman water and let her use a cordless phone. The woman left and later called to thank De La Cruz after joining family in the Midwest.

In Roma, the immigrants appear just about anywhere — hiding in carports, trees, church pews, storm drains and the clothes racks at Bealls department store. Recently, the Roma chief of police came home from work to find an immigrant sitting on his front wall. The stranger claimed to be a yard worker, then fled.

Some immigrants try to pass as locals. Wearing a fresh change of clothes, they slip into Whataburger or by immigration agents parked outside Church's Chicken. Some try to blend in with joggers on the track at Roma's park, or the nearby baseball field. Though Roma is more than 99% Latino, according to the most recent census, and Spanish is often spoken more than English, immigrants' nervousness can betray them. An immigrant spotted at the park recently darted through a Little League game, a Border Patrol agent in pursuit, halting play.

“Right in the middle of first base. Everyone was watching them instead of the game,” recalled De La Cruz, whose son was playing.

Some border crossers die in the attempt. This summer a body was found floating in the river off Roma, and dozens more surfaced farther downstream. A decade ago, Nelson Martinez's dog Guero brought home a human skull.

He followed the dog to the body, rotting in a field beside his trailer. Martinez, 40, couldn't understand why the Border Patrol hadn't found it earlier. The body had been there for days. Authorities managed to identify the man, a 41-year-old named Juan, and reach his relatives in Mexico.

“The family came and thanked me,” Martinez said as he picked his way through tall grass to the cross he erected at the site.

Untold numbers of migrants die trying to traverse unforgiving stretches of Rio Grande Valley brush land. Daniel Trevino felt compelled to help immigrants he met while leading a Youth Conservation Corps team in the area for nine years.

“We had to help people with dehydration, me doing CPR. We took two big coolers, and when people requested water, what do you do? You help,” said Trevino, 52.

If he encountered Border Patrol agents who asked whether he had seen immigrants, Trevino would answer truthfully.


A smuggler leads migrants away from the Rio Grande riverbank on the U.S. side. They were fleeing from agents who found them hiding in reeds. — Photograph: Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times.
A smuggler leads migrants away from the Rio Grande riverbank on the U.S. side. They were fleeing from agents who found them hiding in reeds.
 — Photograph: Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times.


A migrant runs through Roma not far from a U.S. Customs and Border Protection office. Most of the recent immigrants are Central Americans. — Photograph: Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times.
A migrant runs through Roma not far from a U.S. Customs and Border Protection office. Most of the recent immigrants are Central Americans.
 — Photograph: Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times.


Hector Escamilla, the Border Patrol commander for the Roma area, can't condone smuggling but acknowledged it can be difficult for residents to know what to do when they encounter a migrant.

“It's up to each individual. If I'm out there, I'm going to do what I feel is right as a person, as a Christian. We're not going to hold someone accountable for helping someone when it's a matter of life and limb,” he said. “But when they're harboring, it's a question of violating immigration law.”

Some locals do smuggle, largely because of family ties and the lagging local economy, Escamilla said. Central Americans, about 80% of the immigrants his agency is catching, typically pay smugglers several hundred dollars each to sneak them into the U.S. and elude Border Patrol checkpoints spread across the Rio Grande Valley. Would-be border crossers from farther afield — China or India — can pay $10,000 or more.

“Some people make a lucrative living harboring people,” Escamilla said.

Local smugglers are a mix of professionals and novices tempted by a quick buck. Melissa Gonzalez and her husband decided to offer an immigrant a ride after seeing border crossers sprint past their Roma apartment nightly. They knew the risks. Gonzalez's mother had been caught smuggling and was still on five years' probation. They had seen migrants pass with face tattoos from the notorious MS-13 gang. But Gonzalez is disabled. Her husband earned a pittance as her caregiver. They needed the money.

Gonzalez also sympathized with Mexican migrants. Her twin sister, Melinda, had been maimed and killed across the river in Miguel Aleman by drug cartel hit men in 2010.

The couple charged their first customer, a Mexican man, $200. Just as he was climbing into their gray Ford Ranger pickup on May 26, the Border Patrol zoomed up. They were arrested and jailed with migrants, including some pregnant women. When they were released days later, they discovered their 7-year-old truck had been impounded. The cost of getting it back: $3,675. They couldn't afford to pay, so they lost the truck.

After she returned home from jail, Gonzalez was accosted by three migrant men hiding behind brush in her yard. She had vowed not to smuggle again.

“Don't call la migra,” one man said, grabbing her upper arm so hard he left marks.

Gonzalez pitied the man.

“I'm not going to call them,” she told him. “God bless you.”

In early September, one Roma resident said a friend called for help after an immigrant appeared at her house, claiming to have been abandoned by his smuggler. The resident called a neighbor she suspected of smuggling, but he said he couldn't help — the man was beyond his territory.

“I think he ended up calling Border Patrol to pick him up,” she said.

Other Roma residents who have never smuggled say Border Patrol agents treat them with unfounded suspicion.

After an immigrant was discovered in the Ceballos family's gray SUV in June, the Border Patrol impounded the vehicle. Javier Ceballos, a Roma firefighter and medical equipment deliveryman, said the immigrant broke in and used the back seat as a hiding place.

No one in the Ceballos family was charged, but they still had to pay $1,900 to get the SUV back, only to find a toolbox missing. He said the Border Patrol refused to replace it. An agency spokesman would not comment on the case but said the Border Patrol followed the law on seized property.

Ceballos, 41, said that he has aided immigrants in the past, and that it's only human to want to help, especially women and children. But he insists he's not a smuggler. “Sometimes they ask for water and I give it to them. There are people who say, ‘No, I don't want to get involved, go on’. But I do it,” he said. “If they ask for a ride, that's something different.”

Now he's less likely to help the Border Patrol, he said, because agents “take advantage of the uniform,” intimidating residents, treating them like suspects.

“If you're rude, I'm not going to help,” he said in Spanish. “I was born in the United States. I also have rights…. There must be mutual respect. They do not have the right to humiliate me.”


Police in Roma help Border Patrol agents search for a migrant underneath a mobile home. In the town of 11,400 residents, immigrants appear just about anywhere — hiding in carports, trees, church pews, storm drains and department store clothes racks. — Photograph: Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times.
Police in Roma help Border Patrol agents search for a migrant underneath a mobile home. In the town of 11,400 residents, immigrants appear just about
anywhere — hiding in carports, trees, church pews, storm drains and department store clothes racks. — Photograph: Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times.


The priest at Our Lady of Refuge Catholic Church asks parishioners to call him, not authorities, if they find a migrant at church. — Photograph: Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times.
The priest at Our Lady of Refuge Catholic Church asks parishioners to call him, not authorities, if they find a migrant at church.
 — Photograph: Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times.


Distrust between agents and Roma residents is often mutual. The Border Patrol in Roma includes agents from the Rio Grande Valley, other parts of Texas and out of state. Most agents in Roma are men, many are Latino, but the force includes a mix of backgrounds.

Agents are careful about where they eat, worried that cooks will spit in their food. Some won't go to bars or gyms because they fear being spied on.

Border Patrol commanders assign agents as community liaisons to visit neighborhoods, schools and officials. They created a Citizens Academy and Operation Detour, a program that warns residents about the dangers of smuggling. In 2012, they stationed an agent in a trailer in Roma to hear from residents. Few came.

“If their neighbor's a smuggler, they might not want to be seen talking to us,” said Supervisory Agent Albert Olivares, because the smuggler “might think they're ratting them out.”

Residents are leery of local police too. Roma officers spend so much time chasing immigrants that other agencies in the Rio Grande Valley refer to them as “Roma Border Patrol.”

Roma Police Chief Jose Garcia said his officers are simply responding to residents. “Sometimes we might feel like Border Patrol because we get so many of those calls,” he said, noting the National Council for Home Safety ranked Roma among the state's 50 safest cities this year, which he credits to the presence of local, state and federal patrols.

Some residents fear that law enforcement is in league with cartels or smugglers. Jose Armando Loera — no relation to cartel kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman Loera, he noted — lives on Roma's riverfront. He recalled that several sheriffs in surrounding Starr County and elsewhere in south Texas have been ousted for colluding with smugglers.

“If the law comes and asks you what's happening and you say something, they could tell someone on the other side” of the border, said Loera, 58.

In Roma's historic downtown, Father Paul Wilhelm and his parishioners walk a delicate line helping those in distress at the aptly named Our Lady of Refuge Catholic Church.

“Father Pablo,” as he is known, is a grandfatherly figure: white beard with a silver cross necklace. Wilhelm, 77, walks around barefoot and in worn jeans, gardening outside the downtown church. When young Central Americans dash past at night, they sometimes pause to request a blessing. He obliges.

Two years ago, when migrant families were packing the area, the priest negotiated with the Border Patrol and state troopers to stop chasing migrants up a saltcedar tree onto the church roof. But he said he does not shelter immigrants.

When parishioners restarted the rosary society this year, Wilhelm had one rule should they encounter migrants at the church: Call me, not the Border Patrol. In the past, a woman arriving early was startled by a migrant sleeping on a pew and called authorities, who detained him.

Parishioners now want to leave the church unlocked during the day for prayers, but the priest is resisting. He worries the church will become a hiding place again. Lately, he's noticed wet clothes discarded behind the church.

“I would love to have the church open, but those days are over,” he said.

When Wilhelm spots injured immigrants, he often contacts Thalia Munoz, who runs the county hospital and can arrange treatment without alerting the Border Patrol. But that's not always easy.

One night a couple of years ago, a severely dehydrated Central American immigrant appeared on her porch. He said he had been lost for two days after a smuggler abandoned him.

“Where are you going?” Munoz asked.

“Why, here — Houston,” he said, unaware the city was nearly 400 miles north.

Munoz checked his pulse. It was racing. As her daughter fetched a Gatorade, sandwich and cookies, the man begged them not to call la migra.

“I'll get better,” he promised.

Munoz considered.

“Do you know how to pray?” she asked. Yes, he said, crossing himself.

As they recited the Our Father and Hail Mary, Munoz prayed “to make the right decision.”

Afterward, she asked: “Don't you think you need to go to the hospital? You'll go in the ambulance. We never call immigration.”

The man agreed. Munoz alerted the hospital, assuming she had bypassed 911. But someone told police, who contacted the Border Patrol. Agents picked up the man at the hospital.

“At least he ended up getting help and he didn't die,” Munoz said.


Selima Cavazos waves to Border Patrol agents, a regular sight in her area. She grew up in Mexico and understands why people flee their homeland. But she is also afraid of migrants. — Photograph: Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times.
Selima Cavazos waves to Border Patrol agents, a regular sight in her area. She grew up in Mexico and understands why people flee their homeland.
But she is also afraid of migrants. — Photograph: Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times.


Most evenings, residents in one Roma riverside subdivision watch green-and-white Border Patrol trucks pass without a second glance. Retired healthcare aide Selima Cavazos blows them kisses from her patio, flirting across the chain-link fence with the clean-cut Latino and African American agents.

Mis muñecos,” she said, my dolls. “My candies, caramels and chocolates!”

Cavazos, 58, said she understands why Mexicans flee the homeland. She grew up a few miles across the border in Ciudad Mier, where her mother still lives, plagued by cartel shootings.

But Cavazos is also afraid of migrants. In July, agents came to her street looking for an MS-13 member. In June, she called 911, frightened, after a man knocked on her door at 3 a.m.

In August, as Cavazos sat smoking on her patio, a man dashed by toting a plastic bag and a phone. She watched him slip into an apartment complex locals believe is a stash house, a first stop for immigrants who cross the river. The Border Patrol was nowhere to be seen. Cavazos dismissed the idea of calling them. After all, she recalled, it was just one.


__________________________________________________________________________

Molly Hennessy-Fiske reported from Roma, Texas in this first of three parts.

Molly Hennessy-Fiske is a staff writer for the Los Angeles Times, where she has spent a dozen years covering foreign, national, metro and business news, including reporting rotations in Afghanistan, Egypt, Iraq and Lebanon. She won an Overseas Press Club award in 2015, a Dart award from Columbia University in 2014, was a finalist for the Livingston Awards and Casey Medal and won state awards for her work in California, Florida, New York and North Carolina. She completed a Thomson Reuters fellowship in Lebanon in 2006 and a Pew fellowship reporting from Mexico in 2004. She has reported for newspapers in Boston, Miami, Raleigh, Schenectady, Syracuse, Washington and West Palm Beach. Hennessy-Fiske grew up in Upstate New York before attending Harvard College, graduating with a bachelor's degree in social studies in 1999. She spent last year as Middle East bureau chief before returning to cover foreign/national news as Houston bureau chief.

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« Reply #2 on: December 25, 2018, 01:09:49 am »


from the print edition of the Los Angeles Times…

LIFE ON THE LINE: ‘We don't trust anyone, miss’

In town known for migrant smuggling, suspicion of neighbors runs high.

By MOLLY HENNESSY-FISKE | Monday, December 17, 2018

Brianna Dominguez, 5, peeks through the blinds of her grandmother's home in the border town of Roma, Texas, a gateway for illegal immigration. Maria Guadalupe Rios, 60, and her husband have six dogs and security cameras to help monitor their house. — Photograph: Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times.
Brianna Dominguez, 5, peeks through the blinds of her grandmother's home in the border town of Roma, Texas, a gateway for illegal immigration.
Maria Guadalupe Rios, 60, and her husband have six dogs and security cameras to help monitor their house.
 — Photograph: Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times.


IT WAS 11 p.m. when her six dogs started barking on the patio, a sign Maria Guadalupe “Lupita” Rios had come to recognize. Immigrants were passing through her street a block north of the Rio Grande.

From her leather couch facing an oil painting of the river, Rios called to her 5-year-old granddaughter, Brianna, who was monitoring security footage on a large screen in the master bedroom. Rios' husband installed half a dozen $300 security cameras around their ranch house last year after she grew nervous about him leaving 11 days at a time to work the south Texas oilfields.

“Who is it?” Rios asked. “Your cousin? A mojado?”

That's what residents of Roma, most with roots that stretch across the river to Mexico, call border crossers: wetback, a word stripped of its vitriol in Spanish. Some even use the diminutive mojadito.

Brianna peeked through the blinds but didn't recognize the figure creeping through the mesquite brush. Her grandmother asked where the person went. Into the garage, the girl replied calmly, accustomed to strange figures passing at all hours.

The Border Patrol had just changed shifts — prime time for smuggling. Other than the dogs, the only sound was the drone of cicadas. The loud-mouthed chachalaca birds once were natural sentries, but most had been shot by the son of a neighbor whom Rios suspects of smuggling. Sultry river breezes stirred the palms, sending shadows flitting across parked cars. Rios guessed the creeping figure was her sister who lives nearby, but didn't want to risk stepping into the street.

“You can't tell who's who,” she said.

You can't tell who's who. For Rios, 60, and others in the riverfront colonia, or neighborhood, border life is marked not so much by violence — that tends to stay on the other side of the river — as by uneasiness, distrust and suspicion of just about everyone: law enforcement, smugglers, immigrants, even their own neighbors.

Roma is one of the quickest “vanishing points,” as Border Patrol agents say, into Texas' Rio Grande Valley, the main gateway for illegal immigration on the nearly 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico border. Those who scramble up the riverbank often run through Rios' neighborhood, quickly disappearing behind mulberry and pecan trees. From there, they dart into stash houses or climb into the idling cars of smugglers who try to slip them past Border Patrol checkpoints to the north that mark the edge of the valley's “tortilla curtain.”

Roma residents have grown accustomed to national attention shifting their way, as when unaccompanied youths surged toward the border in 2014, or when the U.S. separated immigrant families this summer. Each time the spotlight faded until the next crisis, real or imagined.

To capture life on the border, a Los Angeles Times reporter and photographer rented a house in the colonia half a block from the Rio Grande and lived there off and on for four months. They found a community like any other: families settling down, raising children and caring for aging grandparents. But they also witnessed surreal scenes as coyotes guided immigrants out of the river and Border Patrol trucks barreled past candidates campaigning door-to-door, an ambulance rushing to a call and children awaiting school buses.

It's a neighborhood where the ordinary becomes suspect. A man walking his dog might be a smuggler's lookout. At a pink apartment complex down the street from the L.A. Times' house, an apartment door has been plastered with a life-size poster of a leering clown. It might be a leftover party decoration. But residents think it signals a stash house where immigrants hide.

Then there's the guy who honks his car horn at odd hours, shouting into the wind. He's not crazy, neighbors insist — he's alerting smugglers the coast is clear. (He says he's not.)

“Roma has its reputation — like Colombia,” said Sandra Garcia, whose family owns the pink apartments.

She denied rumors that her family smuggles immigrants. Garcia, 51, her parents and other relatives were convicted of federal drug trafficking in 1994, did their time and don't want to get in trouble again, she said. Sometimes, while sitting behind her elderly father as he naps on the apartment stoop, she sees immigrants dash past. Garcia urges them to move on.


Immigrants look for a safe house in colonia De La Cruz, a riverfront neighborhood where strange figures pass at all hours. — Photograph: Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times.
Immigrants look for a safe house in colonia De La Cruz, a riverfront neighborhood where strange figures pass at all hours.
 — Photograph: Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times.


A Border Patrol agent and police officer in Roma, Texas, search the border town's so-called pink apartments, where they would detain men suspected of illegal immigration. Sandra Garcia said her family, which owns the complex, does not smuggle migrants. — Photograph: Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times.
A Border Patrol agent and police officer in Roma, Texas, search the border town's so-called pink apartments, where they would detain men suspected of illegal
immigration. Sandra Garcia said her family, which owns the complex, does not smuggle migrants. — Photograph: Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times.


Cristina De La Cruz, 82, watches as her daughter Maria Guadalupe Rios prepares dinner. “You can't tell who's who,” Rios said of neighbors. — Photograph: Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times.
Cristina De La Cruz, 82, watches as her daughter Maria Guadalupe Rios prepares dinner. “You can't tell who's who,” Rios said of neighbors.
 — Photograph: Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times.


Roma's location makes it an ideal smuggling spot. The Rio Grande — or Rio Bravo, as it's known in Mexico — is about 100 yards wide as it courses past the city. When the water's low, immigrants can wade across. A few blocks north lies Highway 83, the valley's central artery, which smugglers use to whisk clients away, disappearing into the thrum of traffic. The closest big city is McAllen, about 55 miles east.

A bridge over the river links Roma with Miguel Aleman, which, like many parts of the state of Tamaulipas, has been beset by drug cartel violence. Some Roma residents have stopped going to the Mexican side, but others cross for shopping or a good meal, though they remain wary and tend to go to shops near the bridge.

Roma's median household income is about $20,000, less than a third of the national median. There's no real industry in the city of 11,400 people, and well-paid jobs are hard to come by. Big-ticket purchases arouse suspicion.

Rios wonders about a neighbor who throws family parties, bought an ATV and new cars but never seems to work.

“We don't make enough to have two new vehicles [or] a house like that. And he just came back from Las Vegas,” Rios said.

That neighbor, Santiago “Chago” Barrera, 31, said he has worked as a security guard, his wife as a home health provider. He worries about Border Patrol agents speeding down the street where his three daughters and pets play, and said they have accidentally run over two of his dogs. Still, he said, “The guys in green have it under control.”

He too is suspicious of his neighbors.

“We don't trust anyone, miss,” he told a Los Angeles Times reporter. “I don't trust you.”

Even those who call authorities are suspect, a Border Patrol commander said, because smugglers often snitch on their competition.

Some whisper that another neighbor never gets caught smuggling because she placed a spell on the Border Patrol. She's a witch, they say, a bruja. They debate whether the faint wailing captured by a neighbor's security system is a migrant, a cat or a ghost.

When the movie “Sicario: Day of the Soldado” opened in nearby Rio Grande City this summer, Roma residents scoffed in Spanish at the introduction that claimed Mexican cartels controlled the border. Smuggling isn't a cartel invention. It’s a homegrown tradition.

Smuggling has been a way of life in Roma since its founding in what was Mexico in 1765. The city, which some say was named after Rome by priests enamored of its sandstone bluffs, rose from riverfront Spanish land grants.

The landed class banded together into what they called a masa de heredores, or group of heirs, even after the Texas Republic was declared in 1836. When a U.S. Army surveyor, William Emory, arrived in 1844, he couldn't tell what industry was fueling the thriving Tejano town until he camped on the riverbank and was awoken by smugglers' late-night mule trains headed south.

During the Civil War, Roma remained allied with the Union even as smugglers eluded its cotton blockade. Under Prohibition, bootleggers known as tequileros carted in illicit Mexican liquor through the plaza. By the 1970s, smugglers called mafiosos were trafficking marijuana and other illicit drugs.

“Why do we allow it? Well, it's very simple — MONEY, PROFIT, AND LACK OF MORALS,” local prosecutor Arnulfo Guerra, owner of the South Texas Reporter, wrote in a front-page editorial in 1976. Perhaps authorities could “turn time back for us and give us another chance,” he wrote. “But not until we quit turning our heads and chasing after that filthy and now bloodstained dirty dollar.”

A state grand jury convened in the mid-'70s estimated that up to 35% of Starr County's 200,000 residents were smuggling drugs.

“In the '80s, we had 30% unemployment, but people had new cars and houses,” said Roma's assistant city manager, Freddy Guerra.

As oil boomed and unemployment dropped to the single digits in south Texas, some Roma residents abandoned off-the-books work and “legitimized,” Guerra said, while others “just wanted to do what their parents did: smuggle.”


Border Patrol agents detain men at the pink apartments. Opinion of the Border Patrol is split in Roma; in the colonia, residents distrust agents. — Photograph: Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times.
Border Patrol agents detain men at the pink apartments. Opinion of the Border Patrol is split in Roma; in the colonia, residents distrust agents.
 — Photograph: Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times.


Roma's Fourth of July festivities include patriotic prayers, fireworks and a Border Patrol booth where residents greet agents warmly. — Photograph: Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times.
Roma's Fourth of July festivities include patriotic prayers, fireworks and a Border Patrol booth where residents greet agents warmly.
 — Photograph: Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times.


A girl plays on a trampoline at the pink apartments. Some agents say they believe everyone in the colonia is involved in smuggling. — Photograph: Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times.
A girl plays on a trampoline at the pink apartments. Some agents say they believe everyone in the colonia is involved in smuggling.
 — Photograph: Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times.


In recent years, Rio Grande Valley sheriffs and county judges were arrested on drug charges. Teachers were caught trafficking drugs through schools.

Rios, who works as an attendance clerk at a local school, has seen the trade passed down through generations of students and relatives. More than the Mexican cartels or the U.S. government, she blames American smugglers for the flow of drugs and immigrants through her streets. “This would not be happening if people were not helping them,” she said.

In Roma, Spanish may be the language of choice, but its vibe is more Tejano than Mexican. They don't just fly the Stars and Stripes; they wear it, hang “Proud to be an American” signs on garden fences and paint grocery store walls with “We support our troops.” Roma High's champion mariachi band's CD includes “America the Beautiful”.

In December, locals stage a procession, or caminata, to honor the Virgin of Guadalupe, and in September celebrate Fiestas Patrias, Mexican Independence Day. But Roma also mounts a massive Fourth of July festival in the central plaza with patriotic prayers, fireworks and a Border Patrol booth where residents greet agents warmly.

“This is the land of the free!” an agent leading a band shouted in Spanish. “How many people would like to come live here?” The crowd's cheers echoed across the riverbank and into Mexico.

But civic pride is accompanied by an ever-present worry about arousing suspicion — from authorities or smugglers. Just stepping out for a routine errand at the wrong time can be dangerous.

If you happen to be outside when immigrants get caught, smugglers might think you tipped off the Border Patrol, said Edgar Vargas, 30, a dispatcher for Roma police who grew up and settled in the colonia with his family. Almost two years ago, smugglers running a nearby stash house called Border Patrol on Vargas. To prove he'd done nothing wrong, Vargas had to let agents search his house. Eventually, they left. Only later were the real smugglers busted.

In Roma, opinion about the Border Patrol is divided. In the colonia, distrust is palpable — agents rarely speak with residents, who complain they're often treated like suspects, even those with connections to law enforcement. Some agents said they believe everyone in the neighborhood is involved in smuggling. A Border Patrol spokesman said agents live in the communities they serve and are committed to treating “all people they encounter humanely and professionally at all times.”

The woman neighbors believe is a witch and smuggler laughs off the gossip. She said the only witchcraft she knows is a trick a neighbor tried to keep the Border Patrol away: piling lime halves stuck with cloves on a plate. But it only seemed to draw more agents.

She asked to be identified only by her first name, Tana, because she fled Mexico with her granddaughter in 2012 after her husband and 18-year-old daughter were disappeared by the Gulf cartel. Tana, who is 51, speaks of her husband and daughter in whispers, because her 8-year-old granddaughter doesn't know they’re presumed dead. She says she supports herself by ironing, cleaning homes and baking empanadas. Church friends are helping her find an immigration lawyer and pursue asylum. She said she won't even let her granddaughter offer passing migrants food.

After a neighbor spread a rumor that Tana was fingering a smuggler, the man showed up at her door threatening to kill her.

“I'm more afraid of them than immigration,” she said of neighbors.

One night last summer, Rios was on her daughter's patio, watching her granddaughters dash from the 105-degree heat into their blue inflated wading pool. Her husband had just emerged from the ranch house they were helping their daughter renovate when a chubby young man approached. He had a cellphone in one hand and a plastic bag in another. He looked damp — and lost.

Rios had trained her granddaughters what to do when they see immigrants: Run inside. But now they froze, curious. Their grandmother pulled them to her on the patio where they stood, watching.

The man hid briefly behind a trash can, tugging palm fronds over his face. He dashed right, then left up the street toward the pink apartments, squeezing through a narrow gap beside the building. Rios recognized the gap as one of several entrances to a well-worn dirt path. It ends at the trailer of a suspected smuggler.

Rios' relatives and neighbors have had similar encounters. They fear the growing number of immigrants from Central America, including gang members, and resent the intrusion of immigrants into significant moments of their lives. In October, when Rios found her 91-year-old father, Guadalupe Cruz, had died in his sleep in his house across the street and called an ambulance, the Border Patrol responded too — because immigrants were crossing nearby.

“At the beginning we would see them pass and it was like, ‘Oh, these poor people’. Not anymore. Because it's not one or two anymore. And it's our neighborhood,” she said. Rios is a long-time Democrat, as are most Latinos in the Rio Grande Valley. But she voted for Donald Trump because of immigration.

On another summer evening, her younger sister next door was confronted by an immigrant couple. She barred the door but they forced their way in, scratching her arm. She screamed, alerting her husband who was watching TV. He didn't arrive in time to stop the immigrants from barricading themselves in a bathroom. The family called the Border Patrol, or la migra, as it's often known, and after agents finally extracted the couple, a paramedic treated Rios' sister.

Such intrusions are rare. Mostly, immigrants want to get through the colonia as fast as possible. The border crossers are so common, residents often barely notice them.


“They're in the water!” cried Brianna Loera, 3, as immigrants on the Rio Grande retreat to Mexico after Border Patrol agents stopped them. “Tell them bye,” the girl's grandmother said. — Photograph: Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times.
“They're in the water!” cried Brianna Loera, 3, as immigrants on the Rio Grande retreat to Mexico after Border Patrol agents stopped them.
“Tell them bye,” the girl's grandmother said. — Photograph: Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times.


One hot Saturday afternoon, Anita Loera was playing with her 3-year-old granddaughter outside their house facing the Rio Grande when she saw a group of young men in the mesquite brush below.

“Look, there's mojaditos,” Loera said.

Suddenly, the man leading the migrants retreated, and they followed him back toward the river.

“Look, he's running!” Loera said, puzzled.

La migra are coming,” said her husband, Jose Armando Loera, 58.

Loera, 55, walked her granddaughter down to the river's edge to see the men flee.

“They're in the water!” the girl cried.

“Yes, with the coyote,” Loera explained coolly. “Tell them bye.”

The girl waved at the shirtless men swimming back to Mexico.

Rios, who lives around the corner, has stumbled upon migrants hiding on her patio, in the bushes, behind her Jeep and in the family RV. She had to repair the RV this summer after immigrants fleeing Border Patrol agents ripped the ceiling and screens as she watched from inside her house. Rios has seen them in an abandoned shack behind her elderly parents' home, even resting on the porch of her 82-year-old mother, who suffers from dementia.

She tries to help the Border Patrol. But agents don't appear to interact with residents much, unless they are pursuing immigrants.

Rios reported a stash house that was eventually busted and has told agents about other smugglers. She also asked them to add street lights, increase foot patrols and decrease response times. Their response to the immigrant traffic: “Ma'am, it's all over Roma.”

Rios and her neighbors feel helpless as they watch smugglers foil the Border Patrol by creating diversions, throwing street parties, playing baseball and riding go-karts with their children.

At least one suspected smuggler has complained to neighbors about Rios calling the Border Patrol, and her husband of 38 years, Jorge, worries that criminals might retaliate.

“They might burn our house,” Jorge said as they stood at their front gate one night.

“Have they done it?” Rios asked defiantly.

“No, but they might.”

Rios scanned the street nervously. The air was thick with the scent of sweet cane burning in Mexico. She didn't see any agents.

“I feel better when they're here. When they're not …”

“… They come like bees,” her husband said of immigrants.

Rios feels sympathy for some of the immigrants, particularly other mothers. Last month, when two women traveling with a young girl collapsed on her daughter's lawn, Rios' son-in-law gave them water before the Border Patrol arrived to detain them. “How can mothers put them through that?” her daughter said. Rios countered: “You don't know how desperate they are.”

Still, Rios and her family aren't waiting for a border wall. They built a fence around her daughter's place nearby, and they've added two security cameras.


A man suspected of being a migrant walks past the home of Polette Dominguez as her daughter Brianna, 5, plays in the scorching summer heat. — Photograph: Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times.
A man suspected of being a migrant walks past the home of Polette Dominguez as her daughter Brianna, 5, plays in the scorching summer heat.
 — Photograph: Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times.


Appearing damp and lost, the man dashes toward colonia De La Cruz's pink apartments — a complex reputed by some to be a safe house for migrants. — Photograph: Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times.
Appearing damp and lost, the man dashes toward colonia De La Cruz's pink apartments — a complex reputed by some to be a safe house for migrants.
 — Photograph: Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times.


Eventually, the man huddles in an alleyway, using a cellphone, before heading toward a well-worn dirt path that ends at the home of a suspected smuggler. — Photograph: Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times.
Eventually, the man huddles in an alleyway, using a cellphone, before heading toward a well-worn dirt path that ends at the home of a suspected smuggler.
 — Photograph: Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times.


As they worked one night, Rios could see a neighbor she suspects of smuggling playing soccer with his children while relatives flew a black-and-white kite. Her granddaughters wanted to fly it, but Rios kept them close.

Suddenly, a man sprinted past them down the dirt alley. Neighbors washing dishes watched from their windows as the man disappeared. Three Border Patrol cars soon arrived, and agents spread out on foot.

As the agents asked whether residents had seen anything, the soccer game continued. A gust lifted the kite, tore its string, and it landed a few blocks away in Vargas' lemon tree. When he attempted to return it, the owners didn't seem to care.

Rios wondered: Was it a toy or a signal?

Agents circled the block.

“Did they get him?” Rios asked agents as they passed.

They said the man was gone.

A short time later, when the agents had left, Jorge Rios glimpsed the migrant: He was standing among the soccer players. Distracted by the kite, no one else had seen the man, who blended into the crowd and then vanished.


__________________________________________________________________________

Molly Hennessy-Fiske reported from Roma, Texas in this second of three parts.

Molly Hennessy-Fiske is a staff writer for the Los Angeles Times, where she has spent a dozen years covering foreign, national, metro and business news, including reporting rotations in Afghanistan, Egypt, Iraq and Lebanon. She won an Overseas Press Club award in 2015, a Dart award from Columbia University in 2014, was a finalist for the Livingston Awards and Casey Medal and won state awards for her work in California, Florida, New York and North Carolina. She completed a Thomson Reuters fellowship in Lebanon in 2006 and a Pew fellowship reporting from Mexico in 2004. She has reported for newspapers in Boston, Miami, Raleigh, Schenectady, Syracuse, Washington and West Palm Beach. Hennessy-Fiske grew up in Upstate New York before attending Harvard College, graduating with a bachelor's degree in social studies in 1999. She spent last year as Middle East bureau chief before returning to cover foreign/national news as Houston bureau chief.

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from the print edition of the Los Angeles Times…

LIFE ON THE LINE: Where the wall debate is personal … ‘This is our land’

Residents with deep roots along border fear being displaced.

By MOLLY HENNESSY-FISKE | Tuesday, December 18, 2018

A Border Patrol boat travels the Rio Grande near the De La Cruz neighborhood of Roma, Texas. — Photograph: Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times.
A Border Patrol boat travels the Rio Grande near the De La Cruz neighborhood of Roma, Texas. — Photograph: Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times.

THE neighborhood's namesake, Maria Albesa De La Cruz, was among the first in the tiny, riverside colonia to receive a letter about the border wall.

Decades earlier, the 79-year-old De La Cruz, her husband and his six siblings had earned enough money picking crops in California's Central Valley to buy land at the edge of the Rio Grande, where their cattle grazed and sipped from the river near the bridge to Mexico.

In September she got a letter from the U.S. government requesting access to her land so crews could survey the property and assess possible effects of a wall. “We hope that you and other landowners in the Rio Grande Valley will assist us in our strategic efforts to secure our nation's borders,” the letter from U.S. Customs and Border Protection said.

President Trump has been threatening a partial shutdown of the federal government if Congress doesn't allocate $5 billion for his border wall by Friday. In Roma, a town of about 11,400 people in southern Texas, the border wall debate is deeply personal.

“This is our land,” said Maria Guadalupe “Lupita” Rios, 60, De La Cruz's niece. Her family created the colonia De La Cruz, as the neighborhood is known, and named streets after relatives — Sebastian Street, Federico Street, Angela Avenue. It is now home to more than 70 residents, the city says.

A wealthy Tejano family once tried to take ownership of the land, waging a protracted court battle. Rios' father won. Now she and Roma residents with roots stretching back to the days of Spanish rule feel their property is again under threat.

The wall has created acute uncertainty in the neighborhood; even Roma city officials aren't certain where it would go.

“Are they going to go through those houses? The [river] banks? Will there be a gate there?” Assistant City Manager Freddy Guerra said. “We haven't received a definitive answer from Border Patrol.”

Daniel Trevino, 52, who teaches environmental science at the local middle school, says his students ask whether they will still be able to reach the river to fish after school.

“I don't know what to tell them,” Trevino said. He supports more border security — “I stand by my commander in chief” — but wishes the government would “look at these things more closely before they start tearing things down.”

Some locals consider the proposed wall a vital safeguard; others dismiss it as a wasteful stunt. Most wish the government would be more forthcoming about where it will erect barriers spanning 37 miles of the Rio Grande Valley, the primary entry point for illegal immigration into the United States. The Border Patrol has yet to release precise maps. Throughout the valley, residents have grown frustrated and distrustful.

Last month, more than four dozen non-profit and faith-based groups wrote to congressional leaders demanding that they require the Homeland Security Department to submit border security plans, which were due in September, before approving added funding for the wall. At a rally across the street from the McAllen Border Patrol station on November 11, wall opponents toted signs saying “Save Our Homes” and “No wall thru our homeland.” Demonstrators dubbed the protest a “town hall” in the absence of public meetings by immigration officials.

“They refuse to listen to our concerns and take us into account,” Suzanne El-Haj, 20, an environmental organizer at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, told the crowd of about 100.

Although Trump has made the building of the wall a centerpiece of his administration's policy, plans for new border barriers have been in the works for years and construction of the first $1.4-billion stretch of mostly bollard fencing has quietly proceeded in Texas, Arizona and California. The Homeland Security Department says it will build more than 330 miles of wall in the Border Patrol's highest priority areas if Congress approves Trump's $5-billion request. Nearly a third of that would be in the agency's Rio Grande Valley Sector.


Children return home to Ciudad Miguel Aleman, across the Mexico border, after attending school in Roma. — Photograph: Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times.
Children return home to Ciudad Miguel Aleman, across the Mexico border, after attending school in Roma. — Photograph: Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times.

Border Patrol agent Joel Zavala looks across the Rio Grande in search of immigrants and smugglers trying to enter the United States from Mexico. Nestled among trees, he is hidden from the sight of lookouts posted hundreds of yards away across the river. — Photograph: Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times.
Border Patrol agent Joel Zavala looks across the Rio Grande in search of immigrants and smugglers trying to enter the United States from Mexico. Nestled
among trees, he is hidden from the sight of lookouts posted hundreds of yards away across the river. — Photograph: Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times.


On October 31, the government granted the first wall contract in Texas under Trump, a $145-million agreement with Galveston-based SLSCO Ltd., to erect six miles of border fencing near McAllen. A second $167-million contract was awarded to the company in November for an additional 8 miles. Construction is scheduled to start in February.

Up to a dozen miles of new fencing is scheduled to be built in Roma's Starr County, about half near the city. Barriers will rise 30 feet, with steel posts mounted with lights and cameras and a 150-foot “enforcement zone” cleared of vegetation on the south side facing Mexico, according to the Border Patrol. International treaties are supposed to guide the design, with the blessing of the International Boundary and Water Commission. But the U.S. has already built about 650 miles of border barriers over the objections of Mexican members of the binational commission.

In the Rio Grande Valley, riverfront land is mostly privately owned or set aside as wildlife preserves. Unlike with other parts of the border where new walls will replace fencing or sit atop levees, the geography of Roma limits the Border Patrol's options. The river is the only barrier currently separating Roma from Mexico, and it's still unclear where the wall will rise. To the south along the river? Through town, displacing homes? Or to the north, walling off neighborhoods and allowing access only through gates?

In the De La Cruz subdivision, Edgar Vargas worries about what the wall will destroy.

“I don't think they value this place,” said Vargas, 30, a police dispatcher.

His grandparents already spoke with lawyers from the Texas Civil Rights Project, which has sued to block other stretches of border wall. The family of his 74-year-old grandmother, Dora Villarreal, sold their cattle in Nuevo Leon, Mexico, to immigrate legally and settle in the colonia about 30 years ago.

“We don't want this wall,” she said. “We will lose all of this.”

In neighboring Hidalgo County, Border Patrol officials met landowners in August and again last month to gather feedback on the wall. The wall's path is apparent in Hidalgo County because it's being built on levees. The November meeting was by invitation only and closed to the media.

Marianna Trevino Wright, executive director of the National Butterfly Center, which will be bisected by the wall, attempted to attend but was escorted out by police after arguing with agents over how people were admitted into the meeting. Officials asked landowners for ID and required them to sign in. Texas Civil Rights Project lawyers said they were not allowed in because they were not on the list. Robert Rodriguez, a Border Patrol spokesman, said afterward that the agency “will not tolerate vulgarity and unprofessionalism by any party during these meetings.”

At the August meeting, Loren Flossman, who has coordinated the Border Patrol's wall building for more than a decade, said he had learned from mistakes made after the Secure Fence Act of 2006, the last major wall-building effort in south Texas, which resulted in 55 miles of fencing. Valley residents faulted the agency for paying landowners vastly different sums, compensating the wrong people and failing to pay for some water rights. At the time, Roma residents protested in the central plaza, joined by the mayor and other officials.

“We've done a much better job — some of you may believe that, some may not — of reaching out to landowners,” Flossman said at the meeting, according to a recording made by attendees.

When landowners asked to see the designs provided to contractors bidding to build the wall, Flossman declined because “it isn't a full design; it's conceptual.”

Jeffrey Glassberg, founder of the North American Butterfly Association, a non-profit that runs the butterfly center nature preserve, pressed for more details. “It's hard for people to respond — to suggest changes — to something they haven't seen,” he said. “I'm missing why that whole design thing given to contractors shouldn't be public information right now.”


Maria Guadalupe “Lupita” Rios delivers dinner to her mother, Cristina De La Cruz. Years ago, Roma's riverside colonia was named for their family. — Photograph: Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times.
Maria Guadalupe “Lupita” Rios delivers dinner to her mother, Cristina De La Cruz. Years ago, Roma's riverside colonia was named for their family.
 — Photograph: Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times.


Children visit a truck for Mexican sweets. One teacher said students asked whether a wall would prevent them from reaching the river to fish. — Photograph: Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times.
Children visit a truck for Mexican sweets. One teacher said students asked whether a wall would prevent them from reaching the river to fish.
 — Photograph: Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times.


Scott Nicol, co-chairman of the Sierra Club's Borderlands Team, has requested information on wall plans in the Rio Grande Valley, but said it can take years to get a response, and in the past the information has been inaccurate. “The map is so bad that if you look at the Rio Grande City wall, it actually crosses into Mexico,” he said of the most recent map he received this year.

“People whose houses are going to get knocked over deserve to know what's going to happen to their community. The mayor should be able to post that map outside of City Hall,” Nicol said.

Instead, the Border Patrol has released information slowly and selectively. On October 22, Border Patrol officials and Representative Henry Cuellar, a Democrat who represents the Roma area, met with local leaders in Starr County without notifying landowners. Only one landowner, former Roma City Councilman Noel Benavides, attended, and that was because he owned the riverfront banquet hall where they were meeting.

Benavides said officials didn't bring updated maps or information. “Nothing new,” he said. The media were barred from that meeting and from a Border Patrol webinar on October 30 about wall building in the valley. (A transcript of the webinar was later posted online in English and Spanish.)

Roma City Manager Crisanto Salinas said he had advised federal officials to consult all landowners and to avoid past mistakes with border barriers.

“They're going to have a reckoning,” he warned.

Flossman said the agency was still “fine-tuning” its maps.

Colonia residents fear the Border Patrol will build the wall on Sebastian Street, where a row of houses faces the river. Flossman said the wall “goes behind the houses, south along the river.” But he stopped short of promising the wall wouldn't uproot homes.

“I would rather not make any predictions at this point,” he said. “People have built their houses in the floodplain. We may not be able in every case … to keep the houses north [of the wall].”

The Border Patrol just completed flood modeling and, in its plan, added openings to the wall at local arroyos, or creeks, so that a rising Rio Grande could drain into U.S. waterways. Authorities don't want to erect a barrier that would deflect floodwaters to the Mexican side.

The agency also sent requests to survey 300 property owners' land in Starr County, according to a November 15 Justice Department presentation obtained by the Los Angeles Times, but officials refused to release those records, citing privacy concerns.

The L.A. Times contacted most of the colonia riverfront landowners, including several who live elsewhere in Texas and Mexico. As of last week, only a few had received a request to survey their land. Among those in the neighborhood who had not been notified: the city itself, which owns a lot along on the river.

Among those still awaiting notice was Romana Mireles, 76, a retired home health aide who worries she will have to leave her home of nearly 30 years.

“I can't just find another house — land is expensive,” she said.


Many fear the wall will uproot them in Roma, where some families have lived for generations. “I don't think they value this place,” one resident said. — Photograph: Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times.
Many fear the wall will uproot them in Roma, where some families have lived for generations. “I don't think they value this place,” one resident said.
 — Photograph: Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times.


Rodolfo Villarreal and his wife, Dora, see off their grandchildren before school. Roma's assistant city manager says the Border Patrol hasn't been clear about where barriers will be built. — Photograph: Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times.
Rodolfo Villarreal and his wife, Dora, see off their grandchildren before school. Roma's assistant city manager says the Border Patrol hasn't been clear
about where barriers will be built. — Photograph: Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times.


Also awaiting notice last week was Jose Armando Loera, 58, and his family. A neighbor told him maps of the proposed border wall were posted online, but he doesn't have internet access.

Loera saw the Border Patrol install a surveillance tower across from his house a couple of weeks ago, and thinks that means they won't build the wall. He wished locals had access to the non-profit groups helping residents in neighboring Hidalgo County.

“We don't have anyone. We feel abandoned,” he said.

City Hall has received requests to survey municipal property outside the colonia, which were granted, said Guerra, the assistant city manager.

At his City Hall office, Guerra flipped through illustrations of an alternative to the wall plan: an import/export terminal with a walkway along the river that would serve as a limited barrier. In that rendering, the Rio Grande looks as picturesque as the Seine, with couples strolling past decorative planters and railings.

“We're not against border security or the wall necessarily,” Guerra said. “If they get their structure and we get the import/export facility, it's a win-win.”

Guerra wishes Roma could use its proximity to Mexico to create international business opportunities. The downtown area today has more storefronts shuttered than open. Unemployment only recently dipped into the single digits. The city across the river, Ciudad Miguel Aleman, is more than triple Roma's size.

“There's more wealth in Miguel Aleman than in Roma,” Guerra said one day as he steered his Ford F-150 King Ranch truck across the bridge, past a quiet import/export terminal on the Mexican side, which has seen less traffic as cartel violence increased in recent years. Guerra stopped to survey the riverfront.

“Definitely a missed opportunity, our inability to use the river as a recreation destination,” he said as a family lunched on the Mexican bank, dipping their toes in the water.

Later, Guerra spied some “green jays,” Border Patrol agents picking their way through carrizo cane. Unlike the birds of the same name, he said, “they're an invasive species.”

Efren Olivares, a lawyer with the Texas Civil Rights Project, told about two dozen people at a September 20 meeting at the National Butterfly Center that the government is supposed to pay “just compensation.”

“The big question is what happens if you refuse,” he said.

Landowners in the audience nodded.

The government can take land through eminent domain, Olivares explained, but when landowners sue — as they did in nearby Los Ebanos in 2008 — construction often halts.

“They don't have a wall on their land. So in my book, they're winning,” he said, then paused. “I see a lot of worried faces.”

Among those attending was Ramiro Ramirez, 70, who with his wife, Melinda, runs two nearby church cemeteries that could be cut off by the wall.

“What do I tell the parishioners?” he said.

“This is something we cannot afford to lose. This is our heritage…. I'm not going to last forever. I want to be buried there, and I want my grandson to be able to come and see me.”

In the November 15 Justice Department presentation, federal officials noted that in many south Texas border fence cases, landowners didn't hire lawyers and settled without going to trial.

“Landowner has burden of proof on value,” they wrote of the land.


Children run to a school bus in the colonia. Some locals consider the wall a vital safeguard; others see it as a wasteful stunt. Most wish the government would be more forthright about plans. — Photograph: Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times.
Children run to a school bus in the colonia. Some locals consider the wall a vital safeguard; others see it as a wasteful stunt. Most wish the government
would be more forthright about plans. — Photograph: Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times.


A smuggler runs along the outskirts of colonia De La Cruz in Roma after escorting a group of migrants across the Rio Grande. The riverside town is a hot spot for illegal immigration. — Photograph: Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times.
A smuggler runs along the outskirts of colonia De La Cruz in Roma after escorting a group of migrants across the Rio Grande.
The riverside town is a hot spot for illegal immigration. — Photograph: Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times.


Last year, after a town meeting in Roma about the wall, Texas Civil Rights Project lawyers went door-to-door, warning residents about the environmental impact of a wall and offering to represent them. Some, like Benavides, the former councilman, stayed in contact.

The federal government had already condemned a mile-long, 60-foot-wide swath of his riverfront property in 2008, but never started construction, as international approvals dragged on and money dried up. Recently, federal officials notified him they were taking legal action to ensure they were allowed to survey his land. Benavides had caught a federal surveyor there in October, told the man he didn't have permission and escorted him out.

“I'll make them work for it,” said the Army veteran and eighth-generation Roma resident who has maps of the Spanish land grants, or porciones, his ancestors received in 1767. “They come to Starr County and think they can do what they want, that we're ignorant, waiting for a handout. We're not. We're American citizens. The river crossed us; we didn't cross.”

In the colonia, Rey Rodriguez Jr. readily agreed to a government survey of his family's land. A Roma police officer and school board member, he supports the wall, which he thinks will reduce illegal crossings and drive those immigrants away from the neighborhood toward ranches where they would be easier to catch.

Lupita Rios, of the De La Cruz clan, also agreed to a survey of her riverfront property, but she is worried about rumors suggesting the wall will be built north of the colonia. “They can't leave us on the Mexican side,” said Rios, a Democrat who voted for Trump because she opposes illegal immigration. Her daughter has been renovating her nearby home, and fears the investment will be wasted.

Border security has cost the De La Cruz family before. The family once operated Nati's, a Tex-Mex diner that served scratch biscuits and chicken-fried steak near the border bridge. Decades ago, the federal government bought the parcel for a new bridge complex, paying Maria Albesa De La Cruz and her husband $105,000, enough to move east into what became the subdivision.

De La Cruz has had mixed feelings about the wall.

She thinks the neighborhood she helped create has changed — and not in a good way. Migrants frequently lurk behind the grapefruit trees in her backyard, then sneak toward a suspected smuggler's trailer. At night, Border Patrol agents' flashlights dance on her bedroom wall. Neighbors sometimes spend the night at her home because she's scared to be alone.

When De La Cruz fell and broke her hip in September, she returned home in a wheelchair. Now, she's decided that she's tired of fighting.

“If they give me good money,” she said, “I'll sell.”


__________________________________________________________________________

Molly Hennessy-Fiske reported from Roma, Texas in this third of three parts.

Molly Hennessy-Fiske is a staff writer for the Los Angeles Times, where she has spent a dozen years covering foreign, national, metro and business news, including reporting rotations in Afghanistan, Egypt, Iraq and Lebanon. She won an Overseas Press Club award in 2015, a Dart award from Columbia University in 2014, was a finalist for the Livingston Awards and Casey Medal and won state awards for her work in California, Florida, New York and North Carolina. She completed a Thomson Reuters fellowship in Lebanon in 2006 and a Pew fellowship reporting from Mexico in 2004. She has reported for newspapers in Boston, Miami, Raleigh, Schenectady, Syracuse, Washington and West Palm Beach. Hennessy-Fiske grew up in Upstate New York before attending Harvard College, graduating with a bachelor's degree in social studies in 1999. She spent last year as Middle East bureau chief before returning to cover foreign/national news as Houston bureau chief.

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« Reply #4 on: December 25, 2018, 04:29:27 pm »

this land is my land this land is your land

another fake news conspiracy theory
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Are you sick of the bullshit from the sewer stream media spewed out from the usual Ken and Barby dickless talking point look a likes.

If you want to know what's going on in the real world...
And the many things that will personally effect you.
Go to
http://www.infowars.com/

AND WAKE THE F_ _K UP

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