In Rural West Texas, Illegal Border Crossings Are Routine For U.S. Citizens

Saturday, May 25, 2019
By Paul Martin

LORNE MATALON
NPR.org
May 25, 2019

Along one rugged stretch of the Rio Grande, U.S. citizens routinely cross the border into the United States illegally. A shortage of basic services in rural Texas, such as health care, means U.S. citizens rely on Mexican services and rarely pass through an official port of entry on return.

Informal, unregulated crossings have been a fixture of life for generations in rural communities along the U.S.-Mexico border. Today, however, with the unrelenting focus on border security, this kind of unfettered back-and-forth by U.S. citizens is rare.

“We’re citizens. We’re U.S. citizens that have to go to get help in Mexico,” said Loraine Tellez, a resident of the unincorporated town of Candelaria in West Texas. She said that the help principally involves health care.

There are two towns here, hamlets really, both remote within their own countries yet a stone’s throw from each other across the Rio Grande — San Antonio del Bravo in Mexico and Candelaria in Texas. Their combined population is estimated by residents to be approximately 150 people.

If you are in Texas and get sick or have an accident, you can walk across the river — using ropes to cross above the water — to a clinic in San Antonio del Bravo where treatment and medicine are free, paid for by the Mexican government even if you’re a U.S. citizen. In the U.S., the nearest hospital is a long drive away in Alpine, Texas.

“A 10-minute walk versus three hours to the hospital,” Tellez said, detailing her options.

It’s not a violation of U.S. law to walk into Mexico. However, returning back to Candelaria is. The official port of entry is a 90-minute drive away.

All this back-and-forth has created an unspoken but clearly understood relationship between residents and the U.S. Border Patrol. Mike Shelton is the U.S. Border Patrol agent in charge for the region that includes Candelaria and a group of tiny river towns.

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