Normally, Eagle Pass, Texas, is a small and sleepy border city. Now, with a huge influx of law enforcement on one side of the border and an immigrant caravan on the other, it's as far from sleepy as can be.
As of Tuesday, the city park that sits along the river border was closed to the public. Beyond it, tall metal gates for a two-mile fence securing the two ports of entry were open, but state troopers blocked anyone who might want to enter or exit. Inside the park, and law enforcement cars were parked every 50 to 100 feet, facing the Rio Grande.
A police helicopter swooped by occasionally. And more law enforcement is on the way. In all, 250 troops currently at the Arizona border will soon be coming to Eagle Pass.
What prompted this buildup of security is a migrant caravan that arrived Monday afternoon just across the river from Eagle Pass in Piedras Negras, Mexico. About 1,800 people, mostly Hondurans, have been making their way slowly toward the U.S. border, many of them intent on asylum. The government of the Mexican state of Coahuila arranged for buses to take them through the last leg of the trip, and delivered them to an unused factory, which has been converted into a shelter.
Mexican police soon surrounded the facility to make sure no one leaves, threatening deportation if anyone should try. People are told they must wait for their turn to be sent to the port, where asylum claims can be heard.
Unlike bigger cities, the port in Eagle Pass can process only 16-20 asylum claims a day. Each interview for each claim takes two to three hours. “The status quo is not sustainable,” said Paul Del Rincon, the port director at the Eagle Pass port of entry.
At that glacial pace, working through 1,800 people will take months.
Rincon, speaking directly to those in the caravan, said: “We ask that you be patient with our process. Wait until you are called.”
The chief patrol agent in the Del Rio sector for Customs and Border Protection (CBP) put a finer point on it.
“There is a right way to seek asylum,” said Matthew Hudak. “If someone was to enter illegally, that is criminal.”
Even before the caravan arrived in Piedras Negras, Hudak said, rescues and arrests were up in his sector. He and his agents have 209 miles of border to patrol.
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At the end of a press briefing, Hudak told the media that overnight, agents had caught a group of 35 people crossing illegally in the Eagle Pass vicinity. Some of the detainees claimed to have been with the caravan, though officials admit, that’s hard to confirm.
The Rio Grande Valley, El Paso and other areas on America's southern border have already been struggling with illegal crossings. “Now it’s our turn,“ a Border Patrol agent told Fox News.