According to reporting by Breitbart and Fox News, citing Mexican officials in the border state of Coahuila, about 1,700 migrants from Honduras have arrived in the state, which lies across the Rio Grande from a thinly populated area of southwest Texas. As of Monday, the migrants are being moved on buses to the U.S. border.
Breitbart’s summary indicates the migrants intend to enter the U.S. and request asylum:
The migrants are traveling with the intent to request asylum on U.S. soil, thus making any detention by border authorities irrelevant. The group is expected in Eagle Pass and Laredo, Texas, however, since the region lacks any fencing or physical barriers, some could successfully storm the border with little effort.
As the Breitbart reporters point out, this stretch of the border is unlike the border along Tijuana, where there is an extensive barrier. Migrants who are being organized to “storm” the border between Laredo and Eagle Pass will not be channeled by a barrier system to make their attempts in local areas the Border Patrol can readily focus assets on.
The maps provide orientation to the problem. The distance involved is about 110 miles (177 km) between the two cities, with likely crossing points lying west of Eagle Pass and east of Laredo as well.
The terrain presents little challenge for approaches on foot. The Lower Rio Grande is quite shallow, not even navigable by boat in some places, although at this time of year it probably has at least 3-4 feet of water in it throughout this stretch. (Click for enlarged version of map to see features better.)
It isn’t clear what the migrants will attempt to do. Breitbart describes what lies near the international bridges that run through the populous parts of Eagle Pass-Piedras Negras and Laredo-Nuevo Laredo (the latter lying on Interstate 35, and being heavily-trafficked).
As noted in the Breitbart article, the Los Zetas cartel uses the area as a transit corridor. But largely for that reason, the politically organized caravans, which have approached the U.S. border intermittently since 2008, have avoided it up to now. Tijuana, much further west (and situated in immediate proximity to an existing, heavily urban infrastructure for advocacy and activism), has been the preferred point for attempted entry.
But Tijuana has become markedly less enthusiastic about hosting and processing migrants, who are arriving now in the thousands rather than dozens. That probably affects the intentions of this Honduran caravan as much as the terrain and lack of fencing in south Texas.
It is worth noting that if the caravan is being given safe passage by the cartel – i.e., not just by the Mexican state authorities – that suggests the cartel is getting something out of it. The cartels are not large-minded altruists. They are very likely to be infiltrating the caravan and planning to use it for cover. Such an arrangement would presumably have the tacit concurrence of the Mexican authorities.
President Lopez-Obrador promised during his campaign that he would govern on the principle that migrants from the south have a “right” to migrate freely through, as well as into, Mexico. His government has been facilitating the passage of the newly arriving caravan throughout its progress. There is no reason to imagine that he would cavil at agreements with the cartels to move the caravans more expeditiously through cartel-controlled areas.
The good news, to the extent there is any, is that the open terrain between Eagle Pass and Laredo is easier to keep under effective surveillance than some other parts of the border. Military-grade surveillance assets will be a significant enhancement, offering persistent UAV capabilities and infrared as well as optical sensors.
That said, the Border Patrol can’t be everywhere. The Texas Department of Public Safety will presumably have a presence in the area, along with the local sheriffs. This caravan doesn’t sound all that big, compared to the one coming later with a reported 12,000 migrants in it, and the caravan that arrived in Tijuana last fall. But it will present a new problem, one that requires adaptation and ingenuity to deal with.
We can hope it won’t become a “pitched battle” problem at the border this week. That’s not good for anyone. But clearly, it isn’t the right answer to simply stand aside and let 1,700 unvetted people enter the U.S., many perhaps not even being processed and questioned. Until it is made clear that the political environment in the United States can’t be pressured by dramatic tactics into allowing that, the attempts will continue. They’ll probe at different points along the border, and they won’t die down for the foreseeable future – because they’re about winning a political point. They’re about destroying the very idea of borders.