The area has seen a huge influx of Border Patrol agents, but officers like Green fear the government will always be behind the curve in dealing with sophisticated smuggling operations.
‘‘If the Border Patrol puts more people in the ground, they will take to the mountains,’’ Green said. ‘‘We are always playing catch up.’’
MCALLEN, Texas: In bicultural region, residents root for reform as the path to ‘‘secure’’
Some 800 miles southeast of El Paso is the Rio Grande Valley, where rapid growth has overtaken sugar cane and cotton fields and sleepy hamlets are now thriving cities. More than 1.2 million people live in the two border counties on the U.S. side of this southernmost tip of Texas, and a similar number are directly across the border anchored by the sprawling cities of Matamoros and Reynosa.
Here, illegal crossers can quickly slip into communities without being forced to trek for days through wide-open spaces.
Part of the solution was the border fence, and 400 landowners — most of them in this part of Texas — had property seized to build it. The fence divided people from swaths of their own land, but also struck many as an offensive gesture in this bicultural, bilingual region that views itself as one community with its Mexican sister cities.
More effective, locals said, has been the influx of Border Patrol agents — 2,546 in the Rio Grande Valley today, almost seven times more than 20 years ago.
And while some agents still patrol on horseback, others are aided now by night-vision goggles and unmanned Predator drones watching from 19,000 feet overhead with high-powered infrared cameras.
Definitions of a secure border vary here, but there’s agreement that the premise should not stand in the way of immigration reform.
Tony Garza remembers watching the flow of pedestrian traffic between Brownsville and Matamoros from his father’s filling station just steps from the international bridge. He recalls migrant workers crossing the fairway on the 11th hole of a golf course — northbound in the morning, southbound in the afternoon. And during an annual celebration between the sister cities, no one was asked for their papers at the bridge. People were just expected to go home.
Garza, a Republican who served as the U.S. ambassador to Mexico from 2002 to 2009, said it’s easy to become nostalgic for those times, but he reminds himself that he grew up in a border town of fewer than 50,000 people that has grown into a city of more than 200,000.
The border here is more secure for the massive investment in recent years but feels less safe because the crime has changed, he said. Some of that has to do with transnational criminal organizations in Mexico and some of it is just the crime of a larger city.
Reform, he said, ‘‘would allow you to focus your resources on those activities that truly make the border less safe today.’’
Monica Weisberg-Stewart was born and raised an hour upriver in McAllen. Her father ran a store downtown that she runs today, filled with socks, underwear and jewelry. She echoes Garza’s assessment that things feel less safe now but says that has more to do with the area’s growth than with what’s happening in Mexico.
‘‘I thought that this was definitely the best place to raise my family,’’ she said, ‘‘and I still believe that to be true today.’’
Hidalgo County Sheriff Lupe Trevino points out that drug, gun and human smuggling is nothing new to the border. The difference is the attention that the drug-related violence in Mexico has drawn to the region in recent years.
He insists his county, which includes McAllen, is safe. The crime rate is falling, and illegal immigrants account for small numbers in his jail. But asked if the border is ‘‘secure,’’ Trevino doesn’t hesitate. ‘‘Absolutely not.’’
‘‘When you’re busting human trafficking stash houses with 60 to 100 people that are stashed in a two, three-bedroom home for weeks at a time, how can you say you've secured the border?’’ he said.
Trevino’s view, however, is that those people might not be there if they had a legal path to work in the U.S.
‘‘Immigration reform is the first thing we have to accomplish before we can say that we have secured the border,’’ he said.
NOGALES, Ariz.: In nation’s busiest illegal corridor, ranchers scoff at ‘‘secure’’
Everywhere he goes on his cattle ranch, Jim Chilton has a gun at the ready. He has guns at his front door, guns in his pickup truck, guns on his horse’s saddle. His fear? Coming across a bandit or a smuggler on his land northwest of Nogales, Ariz.Continued...