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The Texas Town Caught Between America’s Border Battle

Under the brutal heat of the midday South Texas sun, pecan farmer Magali Urbina found herself dealing with a sadly familiar scene: a family of dehydrated, injured migrants on her property.

In front of her, Border Patrol officers were putting an IV drip into the arm of the father, a 32-year-old Venezuelan with dark purple bruises and fresh, swollen cuts across his body.

His wife, 22, sat next to him crying while their two children – aged five and eight – watched the situation unfold, alarm visible on their faces.

“This happens every day with that wire,” Ms Urbina said, gesturing towards imposing and chaotic coils of razor wire glinting in the sun on Heavenly Farms, the property she runs along with her husband Hugo in the small town of Eagle Pass.

“I’ve seen this every day this week,” she added. Just days before, she said, she had helped cut a pregnant woman free from the concertina wire.

Texas officials credit the plan, known as Operation Lone Star, with stopping nearly 400,000 migrants from entering the US illegally, over 30,000 criminal arrests and intercepting hundreds of millions of potentially lethal doses of fentanyl.

“Until President Biden reverses his open border policies and does his job to secure the border, Texas will continue protecting Texans and Americans from the chaos along the border,” the operation’s leaders said in a joint statement on 18 July.

The state-led operation, however, has come under intense criticism from the federal government and the White House. Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre recently referred to reports of mistreatment of migrants at the hands of Texas troopers as “abhorrent” and “despicable”.

Stuck between the two sides in the debate is Eagle Pass, a small town of about 30,000 that sits across the Rio Grande from the Mexican city of Piedras Negras.

Here, authorities have taken over one of the city’s main parks, built makeshift walls out of shipping containers and unveiled a controversial string of buoys in the river to deter migrants – a move that has already prompted local and federal lawsuits and a diplomatic complaint from Mexico.

Critics of the buoys have characterised them as a political stunt that is unlikely to have any significant impact on the flow of migrants. In recent days, several groups of migrants have reportedly crossed the river in the vicinity of the barrier.

“They’ve turned Eagle Pass into a war zone,” Jessie Fuentes, the owner of a local kayak company that has sued Texas’ government over the buoys, told the BBC.

“I feel like I’m in a turf war between the federal and state government, and in the middle is our community,” he added.

Mr Fuentes, a retired educator, is among the Eagle Pass residents who say that their lives have been upended by Operation Lone Star.

In his case, the border buoys dashed his dream of supplementing his pension by leading kayak tours of the Rio Grande.

“My goal in life was to relax on that river and show people how beautiful it is,” he said. “But that got blown to heck. To me, it’s not political. It’s the other P – it’s personal. I cried when I saw those barriers.”

Nowhere in Eagle Pass is Operation Lone Star’s disruption as visible as Heavenly Farms, the Urbina family’s sprawling 300 acre (121 hectare) pecan farm on the outskirts of Eagle Pass near the river buoys.


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