VALENTINE, Texas (CN) — Summer Webb, mayor of this remote West Texas town of around 70, is used to migrants wandering across her ranch as they head north in search of a better life. In the past, she said, they might stop by and ask for work — but this year has felt different.
As more migrants cross the southern border, Webb and other residents in the Big Bend region are concerned with what they say are public safety and quality of life issues. That’s in part because of changes in who’s crossing: Fewer children and more adults are passing through, according to statistics from U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
Fences have been cut and cattle water-lines slashed. Migrants have started fires near Valentine, apparently in hopes of sending smoke signals to Border Patrol. Webb has grown wary of her leaving her kids, aged 10 and 13, home alone while she runs errands.
Webb has sympathy for the migrants. “I think they’re desperate people in search of something better,” she said. Still, the noticeable increase of trespassers on her ranch has been “unnerving.”
Webb stressed that most migrants intended no harm — but “it’s a numbers game,” she said. The more people crossed through her land, the more she found herself worrying.
Bill Kitts, the local sheriff, has also noted the increased numbers of migrants in Jeff Davis County, where Valentine sits.
“Even for our area, it’s unprecedented,” he said. “People have lived here their whole lives, and they’ve never seen this before.”
So far this year, he estimates local deputies have had around 10 high-speed chases with migrants and smugglers. Recently, a group of migrants bailed out in the county seat of Fort Davis. Some tried to hide in houses.
“From a public-safety standpoint,” Kitts said, “people are pretty worried and upset.”
In response to this complex situation, Texas Governor Greg Abbott has offered a range of increasingly partisan solutions. He has ordered migrant children’s shelters closed. He has issued a disaster declaration, citing what he calls “the Biden administration’s open-border policies.” He has promised to jail migrants for various state-level crimes, an act that will surely result in family separations.
Now, in another nod to the politics of former President Donald Trump, Abbott wants to build a wall. In a news conference about the plan on Wednesday, Abbott echoed Trump’s talk of “American carnage” as he evoked what he called “carnage” on the border.
“Homes are being invaded. Neighborhoods are dangerous,” the governor said. “People are threatened on a daily basis with guns.”
At the news conference, Abbott said he was setting aside $250 million for wall construction and was hiring a projects manager. The presentation was otherwise vague on specifics like costs or location.
When a reporter asked Abbott about the humanitarian crisis faced by migrants, he said he was focused on Texans whose lives were “riddled with crime.” On Thursday, The Texas Tribune reported that state officials had emptied a 1,000-person prison near San Antonio as law-enforcement prepares to lock up migrants.
Abbott’s rhetoric and hardline policies have caught the attention of Trump, who has said he will tour what he calls “an unmitigated disaster zone” on the border with Abbott later this month. Meanwhile, Democrats in the state have condemned Abbott and Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick for referring to migrant crossings as an “invasion.”
In 2019 — just a day before a shooting in El Paso that left 23 people, including mostly Latinos, dead — Abbott sent out a fundraising letter urging supporters to “defend” Texas. The suspected shooter left a manifesto saying he wanted to stop a "Hispanic invasion." Abbott later said that "mistakes were made" with his rhetoric.