RGV Border Disaster: Demoralized Agents, Angry and Despondent Residents

‘The federal government treats migrants better than they treat their own citizens.’

By Andrew R. Arthur on April 13, 2022
Border Patrol Vehicle

I just returned from the Rio Grande Valley (RGV), which for the better part of the past decade has been “ground zero” for the ongoing Southwest border crisis. As that crisis has devolved into chaos under the Biden administration (and threatens to descend into catastrophe once Title 42 ends on May 23), I found beaten-down and demoralized Border Patrol agents and residents who are, by turns, angry and despondent. Both aimed their ire toward Washington — which is the source of their problems.

The “Battling Bastards” of the Border Patrol. Shortly after the December 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese Imperial Army invaded the Philippines, at the time a U.S. commonwealth. By April 1942, commanding Gen. Douglas MacArthur had been “recalled” from the area, and the 75,000-plus U.S. forces (three-quarters of whom were Filipinos) left behind in the islands were forced to the redoubt of Bataan.

The United States was unable to send supplies to its remaining forces in the Philippines (who were armed with World War I-era weapons), and Frank Hewlett — the sole war correspondent there — summed up the attitude of the troops there as follows:

We’re the battling bastards of Bataan.
No mama, no papa, no Uncle Sam,
No aunts, no uncles, no cousins, no nieces,
No pills, no planes, no artillery pieces
And nobody gives a damn.

The morale of the Border Patrol agents in RGV sector is not quite that low (yet), but the situation is dire there and getting worse, both for border security and for the agents.

There were nearly 3,120 agents in the RGV sector in FY 2020, and their numbers have likely just declined in the interim thanks to the dismal situation there. In February, agents apprehended more than 33,800 illegal migrants in the RGV, a 16 percent increase over the (already high) number of apprehensions there in February 2021 (28,403), and more than four times as many as in February 2020 (6,703) — the last month before the Covid-19 pandemic.

Agents in the RGV have already apprehended more than 200,000 illegal migrants in FY 2022, and those migrants are increasingly chippy. They are emboldened, secure in the fact that there will be few if any consequences for them. Although most are coming to work, I heard reports that some aliens are asking agents when they will be eligible for food stamps and public benefits.

That cocky insouciance is especially true of the more than 41,000 Cuban, Nicaraguan, and Venezuelan migrants apprehended in the RGV; because of our tenuous (at best) diplomatic relations with those countries, they know that once they cross the Rio Grande, they are here indefinitely.

All this disorder breeds other forms of criminality. More than half the agents are “off the line” at any given time apprehending, transporting, housing, and caring for thousands of apprehended aliens per day. That means that the “transnational criminal organizations” (read: drug cartels) on the other side of the river are having a field day moving drugs and “high-profile migrants” (criminals who don’t want to be caught) to the United States.

Stash houses are prevalent, in which aliens are being extorted for additional funds to secure their release and children are abused in the most barbaric manners.

On March 31 in the RGV town of Roma, agents found 106 migrants in one such stash house: “The group consisted of 24 family members, nine unaccompanied children, and 73 migrant adults. They are nationals from the countries of Cuba, Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala, and Nicaragua.”

The more those migrants pay, the better the “stash housing” they receive from their smugglers: Wealthier smuggling clients are allowed to stay in air-conditioned residences (a must in the hot and humid Texas climate); poorer ones get stuck in sweltering sheds with no air flow.

Men and women join the Border Patrol to protect the nation and the migrants from these sorts of threats; finding themselves increasingly unable to do so, morale has plummeted. Agents appear both deflated and jumpy, and their immediate bosses are concerned for their mental health.

That is in stark contrast to their D.C.-based political superiors, who seem rather blasé about the whole thing. Again, Title 42 is set to end on May 23, and DHS headquarters still has no plan, aside from sending “volunteers” to help with processing and care.

Landowners and Local Cops Feel Abandoned. I also had the opportunity to meet with landowners and local law-enforcement officials in the RGV. Those conversations were not any more upbeat.

Many of the residents in the RGV are descendants of pioneers in the area, settlers who came to the lower gulf and the river before Texas gained its independence from Mexico in 1836 (and well before it joined the Union in 1845).

Several large ranches dot the RGV. Some of the ranchers still raise livestock on the arid land, while some accommodate hunters looking for game. All are affected by migrants who cross the river and head into the bush to elude the fewer than half of the RGV agents who are still working in the field.

Gates are broken by smugglers looking for areas to lay low for a while, and their vehicles set fire to the dry grass (the damage caused by one such brush fire measured in the thousands of acres).

In a more recent development, smugglers are now being apprehended with large numbers of chains and padlocks: They cut the locks on gates and then resecure them so that agents don’t know that they have entered property illegally. They then “squat” and wait days for their “loads”.

Of course, those smugglers don’t transport many of those aliens themselves. Minors and young adults are recruited from as far away as San Antonio and Austin on social media (including Facebook), lured by the prospect of quick money and a “Grand Theft Auto” lifestyle to do the dirty work. Even the cops regretted the fact that those young drivers who are caught and prosecuted have “thrown their lives away”.

Landowners close to the river are in fear for their lives, and the lives of their workers. Well-armed cartel members and smugglers roam the river and the surrounding area, forcing those working (legitimately) in the area to adopt a sort of pantomime that they use to let trespassers know that they don’t pose a threat or want trouble.

Unfortunately, however, some residents and their guests cannot avoid such trouble. I can tell you from personal experience that staring down the barrel of a loaded weapon has a way of concentrating the mind, and most in the RGV who have done so once decide they don’t want to return — they find new jobs or another region to hunt in.

Interestingly, I was told that some drug smugglers have greater concern for the migrants than D.C. is evidencing these days: One boatload of workers was accosted by cartel members who told them to call Border Patrol because there was a load of migrants who had fallen into distress on the banks of the river. The workers — not surprisingly for any number of reasons — did as they were told.

I contrast that attitude toward the migrants to the one coming from the Biden administration for a simple reason: The people in the RGV know the horrors the migrants experience on their way to and into the United States, while the president and his advisors appear oblivious.

One individual with whom I spoke (who knew what he was talking about) estimated from talking to the migrants themselves that many — and in particular women — don’t make it. He estimated that fewer than half of the females survive the trip to the United States and explained that he had — reluctantly — concluded that it was cheaper and more humane to “build the wall” and dissuade entrants.

That’s on the south side of the river. Things are not much better on the U.S. side. Law enforcement in the RGV encounter dead migrants regularly, and in such numbers that proper disposition of corpses is putting a strain on local municipal resources. In one county, burials and cremations were such an expense that county employees had to take a pay cut to cover the cost.

Three Common Refrains. There were three common refrains that I heard from the locals in the RGV: (1) “Our biggest problem in the Valley is the federal government;” (2) “the federal government treats migrants better than they treat their own citizens;” and (3) “the migrants think that Biden is their friend.” I had no rejoinder to any of these statements.

The RGV has a rugged beauty, and although certain towns are well-developed, life there is still tough. When you are a fifth-generation resident, however, you can handle the day-to-day challenges of such an existence. What is going on there today, however, is nothing any of them — or their forebears — signed up for.

Respectfully, however, I would opine that what the Biden administration is doing is adding insult to injury, although even that trite phrase does not do justice to what is occurring. To the president and his advisors, the migrants are the real victims, and the locals are (at best) collateral damage. When those in the RGV dare to speak up, they become the heartless villains.

They need resources they are not receiving from D.C. to handle their costs, but more importantly, they need some plan, some policy from the White House that will do something — anything — to stem the tide of illegal immigration. But Washington does not appear to even know that there is a problem.

“You may all go to hell and I will go to Texas.” Congress and the administration either do not know what is going on in the RGV, or don’t much care about the effect that their policies are having there. There has not been a single hearing focusing strictly on the border that I am aware of in the current Congress in either the House or the Senate. And, although Vice President Kamala Harris made a brief stop well up the Rio Grande in El Paso last June, neither she nor the president has been anywhere near the RGV since taking office.

When he failed in his congressional reelection bid in 1835, frontiersman Davy Crockett told his erstwhile Tennessee constituents: “You may all go to hell and I will go to Texas”, before relocating to the Lone Star State.

My take is that the people in the RGV have a similar message for Crockett’s more recent successors in the current 117th Congress: “You can come to Texas and see the mess that you have created, or you can relocate to perdition.” Some members — mostly Republicans — have been there recently to check it out, but most have no idea.

In his 1962 travelogue Travels with Charley In Search of America, Nobel Prize-winning author John Steinbeck explained:

I have said that Texas is a state of mind, but I think it is more than that. It is a mystique closely approximating a religion. And this is true to the extent that people either passionately love Texas or passionately hate it and, as in other religions, few people dare to inspect it for fear of losing their bearings in mystery or paradox.

Perhaps that is the issue — those who are advocating for the abolition of the Southwest border are afraid to “inspect” the RGV out of fear that they will “lose their bearings” in the many truths and paradoxes that are poorly understood in the current immigration debate. They will almost definitely lose their preconceived notions.

As for the locals, they have not quite arrived at the conclusion that many in our nation’s Capital “passionately hate Texas”, but I am familiar with both D.C. and the RGV and am increasingly of the opinion that few on the banks of the Potomac care much for those hacking out a living on the dusty banks of the Rio Grande.

Nearly all those I met in the RGV are related to Border Patrol agents by blood, affinity, business ties, or friendship, and it is no secret in Washington that immigration-enforcement agents are looked down upon by many in charge these days. Little else explains the lack of concern the White House has for the morale and well-being of those who are standing watch.

Everybody I talked to in the RGV — without exception — was concerned about the welfare of the migrants they see daily. They were also anxious about the effects the free flow of drugs and migrants across their stretch of the border would have on towns and communities throughout the United States. All they are asking for is some reciprocation from those calling the shots on immigration policy. Thus far, their plaints have fallen on deaf ears.