McALLEN — A convoy of anti-illegal immigration activists arrived in McAllen on Friday for a rally at the city’s municipal bus station following a week of cancelled border stops due to what organizers said were concerns over their safety.
The arrival of California’s American Border Convoy, a group that has been traveling the border rallying against the immigration influx, comes as the Department of Homeland Security reports that the number of unaccompanied minors and adults with children apprehended on the southern border has dropped significantly.
In July, the U.S. Border Patrol apprehended about 5,500 unaccompanied children on the southwest border, compared to about 10,600 in May and June. About 63,000 unaccompanied children have been apprehended since October, compared to 31,500 during the same time period last year. More than 46,300 unaccompanied children have been apprehended in the Rio Grande Valley, according to Department of Homeland Security statistics released on Thursday. The Associated Press reported that DHS would soon close three 3,000-bed detention centers, but they could be reopened if illegal migration escalates again.
The slowdown in illegal traffic didn’t stop the controversial group from arriving in McAllen, however. It bills itself as “a coalition of citizens who share a deep concern for the invasion currently happening unchecked at our nation's borders.” They were met by dozens of counter protesters in McAllen who said the group was exploiting the immigration crisis to spread hate. Pete Santilli, a spokesman for the convoy, said the group was not “anti-immigrant.”
“We are not sending anyone away. We are stopping the chain of human trafficking,” Santilli said.
Santilli also shouted at the counter protesters, saying that they were helping drug traffickers by supporting open borders. Others in the group taunted their opponents, yelling at them to speak English and chanting, “Give me taquitos and guacamole.”
The counter protesters antagonized the convoy’s members, calling them “toothless rednecks” who were not welcome in McAllen.
Jackelin Treviño, a community organizer, conceded that both sides lost their cool.
“Our goal was to make sure that the media knows that people in the Rio Grande Valley do not condone the convoy’s presence,” she said. "They are not welcome here if they are sharing messages of hatred and violence and of aggression.”
Some valley residents, though, said they agreed with the convoy’s message.
“I am here not just for myself but for the future of my kids,” said Gabriela Alejandra Marquez, 28. “[Illegal immigration] is a slap in the face for those who came here legally, came here the right way – like my father. My father is from Zacatecas and he busted his butt working very hard to save every single penny to come here and live the American dream and he succeeded.”
After arriving in McAllen on Thursday, convoy organizer Eric Odom said many people involved with the effort were apolitical.
“I don’t trust either party, I think that both sides of Congress are equally responsible for what we’re facing,” he said. “And I think there is very little, if any, will to deal with this in Washington.”
The municipal bus station in this city’s downtown has been at the heart of the immigration crisis. Families that entered the U.S. illegally from Central America have been dropped there by immigration officials and later escorted to a shelter at the nearby Sacred Heart Catholic Church by volunteers.
The church has assisted thousands of immigrants since the surge began last spring, but the numbers have declined, said sister Norma Pimentel, the executive director of the Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley.
“We’re not quite where we were before, but I think the numbers have gone from almost 200 a day to 10 or 20 day,” she said. “And now we are at 50 or 80.” Pimentel said there could be several reasons for the decrease, including more detention centers, the heat of summer or government campaigns warning migrants not to come to the U.S. illegally.