Silvia lives in front of the sandy path that hundreds of undocumented migrants they pass as soon as they cross the Rio Grande and land in the United States.
As the 11,000 inhabitants of this city in the Rio Grande Valley, on the border between the United States and Mexico, live with undocumented immigrants for decades.
A man on the American side of the US and Mexico border observes the Rio Grande, which divides the countries, in Rome (Texas), in a photo of March 27 – Photo: Ed Jones / AFP
Many have mixed feelings: compassion and empathy for those who arrive in search of a better future, as many of their own families did years ago, but also concern and even fear of the growing number of migrants in the past two months, sometimes 500 a night, including many families and minors traveling alone.
“What are we going to do with all these kids? Where are we going to put them? We also have people here who need help,” explains Silvia at the door of her modest home, where she has chickens and wild boars and has already installed security cameras.
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The 58-year-old teacher delivered dry clothes to the young woman who had fallen from the boat piloted by coyotes and nearly drowned when crossing the river, but did not want to lend her phone so she could make a call.
“There are many. I am afraid. Something needs to be done,” he says.
Aerial view of Rome, Texas, city on the border between the USA and Mexico – Photo: Ed Jones / AFP
Rome is a national historic site founded 250 years ago and also known for being an excellent place for bird watching.
The vast majority of the inhabitants speak both Spanish and English, are of Mexican origin and work as civil servants or in pipelines. The President of the United States, Joe Biden, won the election here, albeit narrowly.
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Photos show capacity and people sleeping on the floor in a center for immigrants in the USA
“We understand immigrants because we know their experiences, their stories are also our story. The only concern I have as mayor is if this becomes a growing problem that we cannot control,” says Jaime Escobar Junior, mayor of Rome.
In three nights, AFP journalists saw hundreds of immigrants cross the river on board rowing boats. Most are from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, trying to escape poverty and violence.
Families and minors surrender to the Border Patrol (CBP) on arrival and are arrested. Unlike the Donald Trump government that deported minors, Joe Biden’s government tries to reunite them with relatives who are already in the country. Some families will apply for asylum and may await the hearing in freedom. Others will be expelled.
Police officers detain a group that tried to cross the US-Mexico border on March 27 in Rome (Texas) – Photo: Ed Jones / AFP
But there are also adult migrants who arrive alone and try to escape the CBP. It’s not easy – there is a strong presence of law enforcement in and around Rome. Biden guarantees that the border is not open and that all adults captured without documents will be deported.
In February, nearly 100,000 undocumented migrants were detained at the border with Mexico, a return to mid-2019 numbers since the slowdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
For Dina García Peña, founder of the local newspaper El Tejano, “there is no one here who does not understand the struggle for a better life”.
“Many of us came from Mexico. My father had no documents. We left water outside in an emergency, we never denied the phone to anyone,” but “we are seeing very large groups, 400 people,” he observes.
Tony Sandoval, a farmer living in Rome (Texas), observes a wall that separates the USA from Mexico on March 27 – Photo: Ed Jones / AFP
“The government has to do something with these people, they are looking for a place to live, but there are many,” explains Tony Sandoval, 67, wearing jeans and a hat.
Sometimes he gives food to immigrants, but he is angry because the fence around his farm outside Rome is often broken.
Pointing to an incomplete part of the border wall – built of reddish iron between the sorghum and cotton plantations, an emblematic Trump project – admits that he would like it to be finished.
Biden, who is trying to reverse his predecessor’s anti-immigration policies, froze that job when he took office two months ago.
Pastor Luis Silva, from the Bethel Mission Center, also in favor of the wall, welcomes immigrants by the river, gives water and accompanies them to the CBP. In his pocket, he carries his 9mm Smith and Wesson.
“There has to be a way to prevent this. I was almost attacked at my home” by a Honduran, he reports.
“It’s quite the Wild West around here. We have to take care of our people,” he concludes.
But to Noel Benavides, owner of JC Ramírez, a Texas hat and boots store founded in Rome almost 200 years ago, the wall looks like “the most ridiculous thing ever” and “a waste of money”.
Wall on the border between the USA and Mexico, in the city of Rome (Texas) – Photo: Ed Jones / AFP
Benavides had to sell the land he owned across the river to build the border by the Trump administration.
“(That) will not stop them. You build a five-meter wall, they will get a six-foot ladder,” says this 78-year-old man with a thick mustache.
His family has lived there for eight generations, when Texas still belonged to Mexico and Rio Grande was not yet the bilateral border. “We didn’t cross the river, the river crossed us”, says with a smile.
Some relatives remained on the Mexican side.
“Now there are immigrants from all over the world,” observes Benavides. “The United States has always been a melting pot of cultures. There is no reason for us not to welcome these people who want to work.”
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