As migrants arrive in the Rio Grande Valley, residents debate the latest chapter of America’s decades-old conundrum.
Outside the town of Roma, Texas, a series of dirt roads lead to the banks of the Rio Grande. Lined with brambles, the roads are dotted with discarded belongings—toothbrushes, flannel blankets, debit cards, children’s underwear, and empty bottles of painkillers. The most prominent items are colored wristbands, labelled “entries” and “arrivals,” in Spanish, which human smugglers use to track their clients. A community of eleven thousand people, Roma was once known as a bustling river port, where keelboats stopped on their way to the Gulf of Mexico. Lately, it has made headlines as an “epicenter” of migrant crossings.
At dusk on a recent Thursday, the Rio Grande was quiet and its banks were illuminated only by the towns on the Mexican side. At nine o’clock, lanterns twinkled along the southern bank and the sound of air pumps, inflating rafts, rippled across the water. “¡Vámonos! ¡Vámonos!” a man said hurriedly. A chorus of children began crying. “Uno por uno,” (“one by one”) the man added.
After the first raft set off from the bank, the rise and fall of its oars were barely audible. In a matter of seconds, a group of twenty people, some carrying newborns, made it to the American shore. As they forced their way through the brush, they reached the small clearing where I stood. They asked, “¿Por dónde nos vamos?” (“Where do we go?”)