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The city of Laredo, with a population of about 220,000, clearly has a culture different from that of many other Texas cities. Even Police Chief Carlos Maldonado likens Laredo to an island, since there are virtually no other large American cities within a 200-mile radius.
This “island” embodies the constant American struggle to balance national security with sympathy for fellow humanity. The governing principles in place are failing.
Thousands of undocumented immigrants enter the United States every day. However, becoming a citizen of this great nation the legal way is extremely difficult and takes several years.
Only the winding Rio Grande separates the border town of Laredo from Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, a place virtually cohesive with its United States counterpart by culture. Two main bridges grant legal passage from one country to another, creating much hustle and bustle. A constant flow of people cross the bridges carrying cardboard boxes, shopping bags and rolling suitcases behind them – full of the day’s purchases or personal belongings. A border patrolman explains his daily routine on the Rio Grande as a continuous cycle. He shared a trend in trickery used by undocumented immigrants who make it across the river, unknowingly being detected.
One time the border patrol apprehended a mother and two daughters who had run for about 10 yards as fast as they could and then stopped in the middle of a city park, pretending they came there to play and had been there a while. Others try to blend in with Laredo citizens as they have barbecues on the park grounds. Hearing these stories put the process of legalization in a different light.
Countless times people ask, “Why do undocumented immigrants take the risk of the river crossing, of being caught and of deportation? Why not just come the legal way?”
The legal way is a long way, taking nearly seven years after paperwork and a series of tests. Looking from “our side of the river” to the other, Mexico is noticeably different economically. Even with all the media cries of the “economic crisis” in America, seeing the dusty roads and homes made of scrap metal in Mexico, where one is either poor or rich, Americans have much less to cry about. Why else would there be such draw to come to the United States?
Since Laredo is so intertwined culturally with Nuevo Laredo, the issue of immigration (both legal and illegal) is complicated.
Some issues are hardly talked about, such as the fact that when an undocumented immigrant is caught for a crime like prostitution, he or she must have a medical screening before being admitted into a jail and entering the legal system. Hospitals, however, can refuse (and often do) to do the screening because the person is undocumented and has no insurance or coverage for the fees. The police department cannot bear the financial burden of these screenings. It’s impossible.
So what is the Laredo police officer to do with undocumented immigrants discovered because they violated the law? Often, the only option is to deport them back across the border, where they can try again tomorrow.
Border Patrol agents do all they can, but they are often hindered. For example, they are not allowed to trim or mow the brush along the river’s edge on the U.S. side. However, “America lovers” (as a border patrolman called them) volunteer to trim the weeds along the Rio Grande, making it more difficult for undocumented immigrants to enter undetected.
Laredo Police Chief Carlos Maldonado said, “We have a big Mexican population here, and I want to make sure that they’re comfortable when they call the Laredo Police Department we’re going to address needs without checking on their citizenry status. That’s kind of a secondary issue, not the primary issue that we’re focusing on.”
Who, then, is responsible?
The Border Patrol will continue to wait in the weeds along the Rio Grande. The Laredo police officers seek to maintain safety for all citizens (both legal and illegal). But as for the security of the United States border, it seems to be left up to the slippery wet “Big River” where failure today is met by tomorrow, which always offers another chance.