Border towns react to possible troop deployment

Posted at 9:25 AM, Apr 07, 2018

TEXAS – As President Donald Trump considers deploying between 2,000 and 4,000 National Guard troops to the US-Mexican border, residents and law enforcement officials in border towns say they have mixed feelings about the news.

While some welcome the support from the federal government, others feel it’s a waste of resources.

Here’s what some of them told CNN.

‘We have enough authority in town’

Each night, citizen journalist Priscilla Villarreal takes to the streets of Laredo, Texas, to livestream footage of car accidents and crime scenes over Facebook.

As a woman who’s familiar with her community — and the dark underbelly that sometimes rears its head in the late hours — she’s confident sending more troops to the border is futile.

“In all honesty, I don’t think sending extra security to our borders is going to solve anything,” Villarreal, also known as “LaGordiloca,” told CNN against the backdrop of flashing police lights. She was at the scene of a car crash, and the vehicle, she said, had been carrying undocumented immigrants. It’s a common sight in Laredo, Villarreal said.

Trump said Thursday he was considering sending the National Guard to assist in border security, a move that would be in line with actions taken by both of his predecessors.

His comments come as a caravan of migrants makes its way through Central America, with some bound for the US border.

“We’re used to all this,” Villarreal said, before stressing she’s never felt unsafe in Laredo, which she called a “tightknit community.”

Villarreal said she believes local law enforcement agencies and the US Border Patrol can handle whatever immigrants are crossing the border. “We have enough authority in town to cover whatever’s happening in our town,” she said.

Trump’s announcement has gotten the attention of many Laredo residents, Villarreal said. Some think an influx of troops won’t bring change to the city and believe it’s a waste of federal money. But she added, “There’s a lot of Trump supporters in Laredo that disagree.”

‘A lawless border’

Hector Garza, a spokesman for the National Border Patrol Council union near Laredo, points out that the Border Patrol is about 2,000 agents shortof its congressionally mandated minimum.

He and his union — which represents about 18,000 agents, according to its website, and endorsed Trump in the 2016 election — will take any help it can get.

“Anything that will support Border Patrol agents in their operations, we welcome it from President Trump,” Garza said. He said troops could support the agents by providing manpower and resources, particularly when it comes to surveillance operations.

But as things stand right now, he said, it’s impossible for border agents to continue doing their jobs effectively without the proper manpower. The money, Garza said, would be well spent.

“We are very confident that under this military deployment that Trump has talked about that it’s going to be done in an efficient manner that will help our Border Patrol agents and the American public,” he said.

The Trump administration and the Department of Homeland Security have yet to answer questions about how much a military deployment would cost, but those by Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama combined cost more than $1.3 billion.

“It is a lawless part of the border,” Garza added. “When we have 50 people getting across in one hour, undetected, and they successfully come into our country, that’s a lawless border.”

Sheriff says it’s a waste of money

Tom Schmerber has been sheriff of Maverick County, Texas, north of Laredo, for six years but spent most of his career as a Border Patrol agent.

Back then, he sometimes worked side by side with military personnel stationed on the border. But that kind of support is no longer needed, Schmerber told CNN. “Everything has changed.”

Residents of his county, Schmerber said, are safe thanks to the efforts of Border Patrol and local law enforcement.

“I think that the Border Patrol (agents) are well-trained, well-equipped,” he said. “I don’t think we need the military here at the border.”

Schmerber said he believes the money spent could be better used by local sheriffs’ offices. They’re typically understaffed and lack the necessary technology to monitor border crossings effectively.

“We need a lot of equipment,” he said, pointing to cameras that could monitor the Rio Grande, or a drone that his deputies could monitor from the office, instead of roaming around. “Technology is what we need right now.”

‘The border’s wide open’

In Del Rio, Texas, rancher Frank Hargrove said he’d support troops being sent to the border. “It’s a good deal,” he told CNN. “Border Patrol (is) simply overrun. I mean, the border’s wide open.”

Hargrove doesn’t fear for his safety, he said, or that of his family, but the volume of immigrants crossing the border has gotten out of hand. “They don’t catch, I don’t even think, half of what comes across.”

Hargrove, 56, has lived in the area his entire life, and he said he believes the problem has probably gotten worse in the last decade. Hargrove doesn’t see many border crossings nowadays — phones and GPS help migrants map their routes and stay hidden, he said — but he’d still like to see some more support from the National Guard.

“It’s just what they’re bringing across and who could be coming across that kind of worries us.”

It’s better than the wall, dual national says

But across the river in Mexico, in Ciudad Acuña, Rommel Rodriguez, 21, said placing troops on the border near his town would be unnecessary.

Rodriguez has dual nationality, he said, and doesn’t think having US troops on the border would bother Mexicans. But they could be more useful in “dangerous” towns such as Juarez or Tijuana, he said.

But he added, “It’s better than building the wall, you know,” referring to Trump’s long-promised barrier he’d like to see constructed along the border. “It’s less money.”

“It wouldn’t insult me as a Mexican,” he told CNN. “I mean it would be safer … and more secure borders.”