Along Texas-Mexico Border, Mixed Emotions To National Guard Deployment | KERA News

Along Texas-Mexico Border, Mixed Emotions To National Guard Deployment

Apr 5, 2018

The news that President Trump will send National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border is being met with some mixed reaction in southern Texas.

On Wednesday, Trump signed a proclamation directing the deployment as an “immediate deterrent” to illegal immigration along the border.

This comes after days of tough talk from the president on immigration enforcement, including tweets that he’d secure the border through military force until his proposed border wall is complete.

It’s not yet clear how much of an influx the state could see in the coming days or weeks.

John Ferguson’s taking it in stride.

“We’ve kind of been through that before with the National Guard,” he said.

Ferguson is the mayor of Presidio – it’s a border town of about 4,500 people in the Big Bend region.

Ferguson points out this isn’t the first time a wave of National Guard has been sent to the Texas-Mexico border. Texas already has some National Guard troops performing surveillance on the border right now.

Troops have been coming on missions since the Reagan administration. In 2010, then-President Barack Obama sent some 1,200 National Guard troops to the border. And Rick Perry deployed guard units while he was governor of Texas.

“If they’re there to assist the border patrol, and Border Patrol wants and appreciates it, then I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing at all,” Ferguson said.

To fulfill President Trump’s directive, the Pentagon and Department of Homeland Security will work with governors of states along the border.

In a statement Wednesday, Gov. Greg Abbott agreed with the move, saying it “reinforces Texas’ long standing commitment to secure our southern border.”

While Ferguson says he wouldn’t mind the guard’s presence, he does want accountability from the federal government.      

“Depending on how long the National Guard would be stationed on the border, I think you need to be able to say, ‘OK, what effect is this presence having on the border?’” he said.

That’s the big question for this small community. Ferguson’s lived in Presidio for 30 years. When he’s not at City Hall, he’s down the street working at Presidio High School. That’s where Laurie Holman’s been teaching art since the late ‘90s.

Holman says the whole idea makes her nervous.

“If anything, it’s going to make me more alert, more wary, more concerned,” she said. “If I want to go out with my shotgun and I’m worried about rattlesnakes ... now I’ve got to worry about some 18-year-old, 19-year-old National Guard guy shooting me because he’s thinking that I’m doing something wrong or illegal.”

Holman remembers a time when this part of the border was far more militarized, in a government effort to curb drug smuggling.

Velva Saenz, 37, remembers, too. She works at a store just off the city’s main street. Saenz has mixed feelings about an increased security presence in town.

“I really don’t know, I would think this should make us feel more safe,” she said.

Most people in Presidio, she says, already leave their doors unlocked and know their neighbors -- both in town and across the border.

But, for Saenz, a shooting of a friend is top of mind.

In 1997, 18-year-old Ezequiel Hernández was shot and killed by Marines on a drug surveillance mission.

Saenz says this week’s news -- and talk of a more militarized border -- has kept Hernandez on her mind.

“He graduated with me,” Saenz said. “So we lived it with him. It makes you think twice whether it’s safe or not.”

Hernandez’s death can be seen as an extreme-worst-case scenario. But in Presidio, those events are still vividly remembered.

This story was provided by Marfa Public Radio.