McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — A delegation of leaders from the South Texas border town of Laredo is in Austin this week meeting with state officials and asking why the state wants to build a border wall.
Laredo’s mayor and seven of the city’s eight city council members have been at the Texas Capitol since Tuesday conducting a host of meetings on various topics affecting the community, City Council member Melissa Cigarroa told Border Report on Thursday.
Among topics they have discussed with state leaders include:
- The state’s plan to build 9 new miles of state-funded border wall through Webb and Zapata counties.
- Health issues suffered by Laredoans affected by the 17,000 18-wheeler trucks that cross daily from Nuevo Laredo, Mexico.
- Housing of asylum-seeking migrants once Title 42 lifts.
- Food deserts in low-income areas.
- A burgeoning homeless population.
- And the busing of migrants to Laredo from other border sectors for processing.
Cigarroa said the delegation learned that hundreds of asylum-seekers are being bused by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to the soft-sided U.S. Customs and Border Processing facility in southeast Laredo from other border cities like Tucson, Arizona, Eagle Pass, Texas, and the Rio Grande Valley.
“Laredo is just doing a really good job processing. So they’re getting these buses of migrants in order for that to happen. And it’s putting strain on local resources. And you run into migrants who are pregnant women or children with illnesses and may need medical attention. And so it’s straining some of our health services,” Cigarroa said via phone.
Laredo — a town of 225,000 — does not have a pediatric intensive care unit and has limited hospital beds in its two hospitals, and hospitals in the Rio Grande Valley can be a three-hour drive away.
“Medical personnel, such as nurses technicians are also few,” Laredo’s new Mayor Dr. Victor Treviño, a medical doctor who was the city’s former health authority, told Border Report when he was inaugurated at the end of December.
Leaders are requesting “additional resources” ahead of what they anticipate will be a surge of asylum-seekers crossing the border should the Biden administration lift Title 42, Cigarroa said.
The Trump administration put the public health order in place in March 2020 to stop the cross-border spread of COVID-19. Title 42 allows U.S. Border Patrol agents to immediately expel certain migrants to Mexico, but once the order is lifted, border communities expect a wave of asylum seekers to come across the Southwest border.
Currently, DHS buses migrants who are processed at the tent facility to nonprofit and faith-based organizations and shelters in downtown Laredo that help asylum seekers find transportation and give them food and clothes. But Cigarroa says the city has a tremendous homeless population and cannot handle additional migrants, if they were to come like thousands crossed in December from Juarez, Mexico, into El Paso, Texas.
“We have a homelessness problem in Laredo that the city has been proactively dealing with. They’re going to dedicate $1 million dollars to a facility and bring service providers together. And so we want to see the best models to do that,” Cigarroa said.
Members from the Laredo Housing Authority also came for the meetings, along with private landowners and ranchers, and members of the nonprofit Rio Grande International Study Center, Cigarroa said.
On Thursday, the delegation met with officials from the Continuum of Care, an agency within the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs, which she says is helping Laredo leaders to craft a care plan to meet the city’s current homeless population.
Cigarroa said they also met with Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw, whose agency runs Operation Lone Star.
“He really spoke about the three-legged stool. So believing that infrastructure is one of the issues — the wall. And then technology was another issue, and then personnel. And he’s really trying to get all three of those pieces moving in order to create, or to provide, the border security that he feels needs to be provided there,” Cigarroa said.
She said the delegation made clear that they are opposed to a border wall being built through Laredo. But she said McCraw informed them that a clause in the Texas Appropriations bill that provided for nearly $1 billion in funds in Fiscal Years 2021-22 to build a state-funded border barrier, does not allow the state to take lands by “eminent domain.”
They also met with Texas Facilities Commission Executive Director Mike Novak, whose agency is overseeing all state-funded border wall contracts. And she said the delegation expressed concern over the recent awarding of a $224 million contract on Jan. 4 to Fisher Sand & Gravel Company to build 9.4 miles along the border in Zapata and Webb counties.
Fisher Sand & Gravel is a North Dakota-based company owned by builder Tommy Fisher, who also built a controversial private border wall in the Rio Grande Valley, which now is reportedly deteriorating.
But she says Novak told her they aren’t sure exactly where the wall will be built, yet.
“We come to find out they don’t know where yet those (wall) contracts will be placed,” she said.
Cigarroa says several borderland owners in the rural and tiny towns of El Cenizo and Rio Bravo have told Laredo officials that they have been approached to sell easements to the state for about $18,000, which is equal to what many families in these towns make in a year.
“It could be in Webb and it could be in Zapata (counties). We don’t really know and that seems crazy,” Cigarroa said.
Cigarroa has long been an outspoken member and leader of the No Border Wall Laredo Coalition, a grassroots organization that fought the federal border wall during the Trump administration.
So far, no border wall has been put up in Webb or Zapata counties — unlike miles of federal and state wall that are going up further west in the Rio Grande Valley.
But now Cigarroa says they are worried that the same design — and using the same bollards bought from federal contractors — will soon be built near Laredo.
“That’s what our message was to the Texas Facilities Commission is that we have already gone through this process where they draw up contracts without having land and the difficulty in securing that land,” Cigarroa said. “This doesn’t make sense for the Texas taxpayer, because you’re allowing companies then to begin to spend money against this contract for materials and supplies or whatever, without having the land.”
A meeting is to be held Feb. 15 at El Cenizo City Hall to inform residents about the border wall project, she said.