CANDELARIA, Texas—In a reversal of stereotypes along one rugged stretch of the Rio Grande, it is US citizens who are breaking border laws. It is, of course, illegal to enter the US without passing through an official border crossing. Along one stretch of the Rio Grande, the artery that marks the US border with Mexico, US citizens are doing just that because of a shortage of basic services in rural Texas, such as health care.
Informal, unregulated crossings have been a fixture of life for generations in rural communities on the river. It is a scene that’s been replayed over the generations. Today, however, with the unrelenting focus on border security, this kind of unfettered back and forth by US citizens is rare.
US Border Patrol Agent Agent Leo Gonzales speaks with two migrants, a father and his five-year-old daughter, who said they had just crossed the Rio Grande from Mexico after an overland trip from Honduras. (photo: Lorne Matalon)
LA GRULLA, Texas–Since the terrorist attacks of Sept 11 2001, the United States has spent over 100 billion dollars on border security technology—cameras, drones, aerostats (“blimps”) airborne patrols, fencing and walls. But in the U.S. Border Patrol’s most active sector in terms of arrests, the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas, horses and the agents riding them are patrolling terrain that technology alone can’t alone control. As politicians debate an expanded and expensive border wall, this kind of “old school” border security comes at a relatively miniscule cost to taxpayers.
Using horses to secure the border is not new. It began in 1924, the year what became the modern-day Border Patrol was founded. Today what is changing is where the horses now come from and how critical they’ve become in what statistics show is currently the Border Patrol’s most active zone. Supervisory Agent Manuel Torresmutt leads the horse unit.
“Going into such rough terrain in the dark hours, the horse will take care of the rider,” said Supervisory Agent Manuel Torresmutt, leader of the horse unit.
He and a handful of agents were patrolling a sliver of the Rio Grande one hour west of McAllen, Texas and Reynosa, Mexico. The horses are mustangs captured on federal lands in the west.
The BJ Bishop Wetland in Presidio, Texas, lies between a water treatment plant and the Rio Grande. The man-made wetland is filled with treated waste water from the plant. Construction is funded by Congress. A bipartisan bill before Congress proposes to extend funding for wetland construction. (Lorne Matalon)
PRESIDIO, Texas — A man-made wetland is now under construction on the Rio Grande, the first on the Texas-Mexico border.
Terry Bishop stands beside the wetland named for his father, BJ Bishop. The younger Bishop plans to replicate this man-made wetland on a nearby ancient floodplain where the Rio Grande joins the Rio Conchos at Ojinaga, Chihuahua. (Lorne Matalon)
And this new wetland will be the first on the Rio Grande to use treated wastewater to restore habitat. This comes as Congress is considering a bipartisan bill to extend funding for the construction of wetlands.
The Rio Grande has lost huge swaths of bird and wildlife habitat because water has been diverted for farming and human consumption and the population of the Southwest has grown exponentially.
The new man-made wetland leverages geography and a blend of private and federal funding.
Under a longstanding treaty, the Colorado River irrigates 3 million acres of farmland and supplies water to 30 million people in the United States and Mexico. Between population growth and a decade long drought, the Colorado is under such stress that Western states – desperate to maintain water supplies – want to purify agricultural runoff currently diverted into Mexico. But as The World’s Lorne Matalon reports, Mexico covets that water, because it has given birth to a productive wetland.
Columns of moist air hover above still water in the Cienega de Santa Clara, mirroring the desert sky. The wetland is an oasis in dry northern Mexico, a haven for birds and fish, some endangered.
“The Cienega is the most important wetland in the Colorado River delta.”
Juarez Mayor Jose Reyes Ferriz; “I’m not thinking about the threats. I think about what needs to be done in my city and I do it.”
Juarez, Mexico, a stone’s throw from El Paso, Texas represents an important business center for the United States, supplying dozens of U.S. companies with auto parts, electronics and other manufactured goods. But the city is under siege, a fact acknowledged by the Obama Administration, which is crafting contingency plans to send the National Guard to the border if conditions deteriorate further.
Homeland Security’s Operations Director told Congress last week that National Guard troops will be sent to the border only as a “last resort” to combat threats from Mexico’s drug cartels. The cartels have publicly targeted politicians and police from the federal to the local level.
Take Juárez Mayor Jose Reyes Ferriz. He now travels in an armed convoy whenever he leaves City Hall.