Pecan farmers get caught in power vacuum on Texas border

Sep 1, 2022, 8:49 AM | Updated: Sep 2, 2022, 8:51 am

Magali Urbina, right, talks through her fence to migrants who crossed the Rio Grande illegally at h...

Magali Urbina, right, talks through her fence to migrants who crossed the Rio Grande illegally at her pecan farm, Heavenly Farms, Friday, Aug. 26, 2022, in Eagle Pass, Texas. The Texas National Guard and state troopers built a fence around Heavenly Farms and, in mid-August, locked a gate to arrest migrants after crossing the Rio Grande illegally. The U.S. Border Patrol felt the lock impeded operations and had it removed. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

(AP Photo/Eric Gay)


              Migrants wait to be processed by the Border Patrol after illegally crossing the Rio Grande river from Mexico into the U.S. at Eagle Pass, Texas, Friday, Aug. 26, 2022. The area has become entangled in a turf war between the Biden administration and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott over how to police the U.S. border with Mexico. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
            
              Migrants wait to be processed by the Border Patrol after illegally crossing the Rio Grande river from Mexico into the U.S. at Eagle Pass, Texas, Friday, Aug. 26, 2022. The area has become entangled in a turf war between the Biden administration and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott over how to police the U.S. border with Mexico. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
            
              Migrants walk along concertina wire toward Border Patrol officers after illegally crossing the Rio Grande from Mexico into the U.S. at Eagle Pass, Texas, Friday, Aug. 26, 2022. The area has become entangled in a turf war between the Biden administration and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott over how to police the U.S. border with Mexico. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
            
              Migrants wait to be processed by the Border Patrol after illegally crossing the Rio Grande river from Mexico into the U.S. at Eagle Pass, Texas, Friday, Aug. 26, 2022. The area has become entangled in a turf war between the Biden administration and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott over how to police the U.S. border with Mexico. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
            
              A member of the Texas National Guard looks across the Rio Grande to Mexico from the U.S. at Eagle Pass, Texas, Friday, Aug. 26, 2022. The area has become entangled in a turf war between the Biden administration and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott over how to police the U.S. border with Mexico. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
            
              Migrants walk along concertina wire toward Border Patrol officers after illegally crossing the Rio Grande from Mexico into the U.S. at Eagle Pass, Texas, Friday, Aug. 26, 2022. The area has become entangled in a turf war between the Biden administration and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott over how to police the U.S. border with Mexico. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
            
              Concertina wire lines the banks of the Rio Grande at Eagle Pass, Texas, Friday, Aug. 26, 2022. The area has become entangled in a turf war between the Biden administration and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott over how to police the U.S. border with Mexico. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
            
              A man carries a child as they wait to be processed by the Border Patrol after illegally crossing the Rio Grande river from Mexico into the U.S. at Eagle Pass, Texas, Friday, Aug. 26, 2022. The area has become entangled in a turf war between the Biden administration and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott over how to police the U.S. border with Mexico. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
            
              Migrants wait to be processed by the Border Patrol after illegally crossing the Rio Grande river from Mexico into the U.S. at Eagle Pass, Texas, Friday, Aug. 26, 2022. The area has become entangled in a turf war between the Biden administration and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott over how to police the U.S. border with Mexico. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
            
              Texas National Guard help patrol looks the Rio Grande near Eagle Pass, Texas, Friday, Aug. 26, 2022. The area has become entangled in a turf war between the Biden administration and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott over how to police the U.S. border with Mexico. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
            
              Migrants are processed by the Border Patrol after illegally crossing the Rio Grande river from Mexico into the U.S. at Eagle Pass, Texas, Friday, Aug. 26, 2022. The area has become entangled in a turf war between the Biden administration and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott over how to police the U.S. border with Mexico. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
            
              Migrants are loaded onto a van as they are processed by the Border Patrol after illegally crossing the Rio Grande river from Mexico into the U.S. at Eagle Pass, Texas, Friday, Aug. 26, 2022. The area has become entangled in a turf war between the Biden administration and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott over how to police the U.S. border with Mexico. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
            
              A Border Patrol vehicle enters Heavenly Farms, a pecan farm owned by Hugo and Magali Urbina, Friday, Aug. 26, 2022, in Eagle Pass, Texas. The area has become entangled in a turf war between the Biden administration and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott over how to police the U.S. border with Mexico. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
            
              Hugo Urbina, center, talks through his fence to migrants who crossed the Rio Grande illegally at his pecan farm, Heavenly Farms, Friday, Aug. 26, 2022, in Eagle Pass, Texas. The Texas National Guard and state troopers built a fence around Heavenly Farms and, in mid-August, locked a gate to arrest migrants after crossing the Rio Grande illegally. The Border Patrol felt the lock impeded operations and had it removed. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
            
              Migrants gather their personal items as they wait to be processed by the Border Patrol after illegally crossing the Rio Grande river from Mexico into the U.S. at Eagle Pass, Texas, Friday, Aug. 26, 2022. The area has become entangled in a turf war between the Biden administration and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott over how to police the U.S. border with Mexico. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
            
              Migrants who crossed the Rio Grande illegally, stand behind an unlocked gate at Heavenly Farms, a pecan farm, Heavenly Farms, owned by Hugo and Magali Urbina, Friday, Aug. 26, 2022, in Eagle Pass, Texas. The Texas National Guard and state troopers built a fence around Heavenly Farms and, in mid-August, locked a gate to arrest migrants after crossing the Rio Grande illegally. The Border Patrol felt the lock impeded operations and had it removed. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
            
              Magali Urbina, right, talks through her fence to migrants who crossed the Rio Grande illegally at her pecan farm, Heavenly Farms, Friday, Aug. 26, 2022, in Eagle Pass, Texas. The Texas National Guard and state troopers built a fence around Heavenly Farms and, in mid-August, locked a gate to arrest migrants after crossing the Rio Grande illegally. The U.S. Border Patrol felt the lock impeded operations and had it removed. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

EAGLE PASS, Texas (AP) — A Texas pecan farm nearly the size of Disneyland has become entangled in a turf war between the Biden administration and Republican Gov. Greg Abbott over immigration enforcement on the southern border.

Hugo and Magali Urbina, who bought Heavenly Farms in April 2021, at first welcomed the state footing the bill for a new chain-link fence through their property earlier this year as part of Abbott’s multibillion-dollar crackdown on border crossings along the Rio Grande. But then, one day, they found the fence’s main gate unexpectedly locked.

The lock was put there, the couple says, by Texas authorities who have spent months arresting thousands of migrants on trespassing charges on private land. But the Urbinas didn’t want the lock and neither did the U.S. Border Patrol, which found it impeded the agency’s own immigration enforcement and had it removed.

Now a single gate on the 1,200-mile Texas border has swung open a new dust-up over how to address near-record levels of migration on America’s southern doorstep, a fight the Urbinas say they want no part of.

“Unbelievable,” Abbott lashed out on social media last month after the lock was removed. “While Texas secures the border, the federal government is enabling illegal immigration.”

The dispute is the latest example of how Texas’ unprecedented challenge to the federal government’s authority on the border has created a clash among agencies working at cross purposes.

The Border Patrol’s Del Rio sector, which includes Eagle Pass where most of the nearly 470-acre farm is located, is fast becoming the busiest corridor for illegal crossings, with thousands passing each week onto the farm alone. The sector may soon surpass Texas’ Rio Grande Valley, which has been the focus for the last decade.

The Urbinas do not oppose Abbott’s massive border mission. But in the case of the lock, they say it went too far. They blamed what they see as a lack of single command in an area saturated with state troopers, Texas National Guard members, U.S. Border Patrol agents and local authorities, all of whom constantly cross paths and often work in tandem.

“They are all doing what they are being told,” Magali Urbina said. “It is really not their fault, but there is nobody running or telling them. There is no boss.”

It isn’t an isolated case.

In September 2021, Texas troopers told Border Patrol agents on horseback to block migrants from crossing the river to a camp of nearly 16,000 predominantly Haitians in Del Rio, about an hour’s drive north of Eagle Pass. Images of Border Patrol agents twirling reins at overpowered migrants sparked widespread criticism, including from President Joe Biden.

The internal investigation found that agents acted against Border Patrol objectives and “resulted in the unnecessary use of force against migrants who were attempting to reenter the United States with food.” The agents had been “instructed to help where needed” and not told anything more specific about how to respond to requests from another agency.

Abbott, who is seeking a third term, launched his multibillion-dollar “Operation Lone Star” last year, creating an overwhelming presence on the border. The size and cost of the mission has grown in defiance of the Democratic administration in Washington:

— Since July, the state has picked up 5,600 migrants who have entered the country illegally in Texas and returned them to ports of entry on the border, a role that has been reserved for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

In Eagle Pass, state buses drop off migrants throughout the day at a border crossing with Piedras Negras, Mexico, as far as they can go. CBP releases them, creating a circular flow.

Since April, Texas has bused more than 7,000 migrants to Washington and New York on free, voluntary trips, attempting to call attention to what it considers Biden’s failed policies. This week, Abbott began sending buses to Chicago, with the first arriving Thursday at Union Station. White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre has called the move a “political ploy.”

— Since last year, the state has charged more than 4,800 migrants with trespassing, a misdemeanor that carries a maximum penalty of a year in jail.

The Urbinas’ farm, which winds along the river, includes an old house that the couple is restoring for visitors to sample pecans, coffee and wine. They were inspired by Fredericksburg, a town of German heritage near Austin that draws tourists.

The farm of neatly manicured rows of trees had long drawn migrants but was relatively peaceful before the lifelong Eagle Pass resident couple bought it. It is located at the end of a stretch of new border fencing that was built on Abbott’s orders, on the edge of the 30,000-resident town that is dotted with warehouses, decaying houses and chain stores.

Agents stopped migrants nearly 50,000 times in the Del Rio sector in July, with Rio Grande Valley a distant second at about 35,000. About 6 of 10 stops in the Del Rio sector were migrants from Venezuela, Cuba or Nicaragua, who are likely to be released to pursue their immigration cases because poor diplomatic relations with those countries means the U.S. can’t send them home.

Migrants cross the river and climb a few feet uphill amidst overgrown Carrizo cane and concertina wire to surrender on the farm’s edge, expecting they will be released. U.S. Border Patrol agents, state troopers and journalists are a regular presence.

Border Patrol unlocked the gate and took migrants in for processing, a regular procedure for the federal officials in any situation involving a lock within 25 miles of the border, said Jon Anfinsen, president of the National Border Patrol Council union chapter that includes agents in Eagle Pass.

“The governor is telling everyone, ‘Secure the border.’ I have no doubt that is the intent but the reality of it is that it’s just not that simple,” Anfinsen said. “We’ve been doing this forever and it hasn’t been fixed yet. So it’s a noble attempt, I suppose, but we’re going to have to take these people into custody.”

Border Patrol officials declined comment.

Ericka Miller, a spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Public Safety, said the agency is accommodating the Urbinas’ request to have the gate unlocked. She said DPS is also working to have carrizo cane on the property removed but said the Urbinas are allowing concertina wiring to stay on the property.

“All landowner agreements are voluntary and can be eliminated at any time. Again, DPS is there to assist the landowner,” Miller said in an email.

The chain-link fence, which rises over the cane intertwined with the razor wire, makes it easier for the Urbinas to pursue trespassing charges against people crossing into their farm. However, they haven’t, although they know cattle ranchers who have.

The state and federal governments are each “wanting to pull all the levers” and not working together, Hugo Urbina said. The couple regrets what they see as a disconnect.

“The president is not here, the governor is not here, but this is our land,” Magali Urbina said.

___

Associated Press writers Elliot Spagat in San Diego and Paul Weber in Austin, Texas, contributed.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

Margrethe Vestager, Executive Vice-President for A Europe Fit for the Digital Age and Competition, ...

Associated Press

US, Europe working on voluntary AI code of conduct as calls grow for regulation

The United States and Europe are drawing up a voluntary code of conduct for artificial intelligence as the developing technology triggers warnings

9 hours ago

FILE - Idaho Attorney General candidate Rep. Raul Labrador speaks during the Idaho Republican Party...

Associated Press

Families sue to block Idaho law barring gender-affirming care for minors

The families of two transgender teenagers filed a lawsuit Thursday to block enforcement of Idaho's ban on gender-affirming medical care for minors.

1 day ago

Amazon agreed Wednesday to pay a $25 million civil penalty to settle Federal Trade Commission alleg...

Associated Press

Amazon fined $25M for violating child privacy with Alexa

Amazon agreed Wednesday to pay a $25 million civil penalty to settle Federal Trade Commission allegations it violated a child privacy law

1 day ago

FILE - Candles are lit on a memorial wall during an anniversary memorial service at the Holy Trinit...

Associated Press

Pain and terror felt by passengers before Boeing Max crashed can be considered, judge rules

Families of passengers who died in the crash of a Boeing 737 Max in Ethiopia can seek damages for the pain and terror suffered by victims in the minutes before the plane flew nose-down into the ground, a federal judge has ruled.

2 days ago

OpenAI's CEO Sam Altman, the founder of ChatGPT and creator of OpenAI speaks at University College ...

Associated Press

Artificial intelligence threatens extinction, experts say in new warning

Scientists and tech industry leaders issued a new warning Tuesday about the perils that artificial intelligence poses to humankind.

2 days ago

Amazon agreed Wednesday to pay a $25 million civil penalty to settle Federal Trade Commission alleg...

Associated Press

Hundreds of Amazon workers protest company’s climate impact, return-to-office mandate

SEATTLE (AP) — Telling executives to “strive harder,” hundreds of corporate Amazon workers protested what they decried as the company’s lack of progress on climate goals and an inequitable return-to-office mandate during a lunchtime demonstration at its Seattle headquarters Wednesday. The protest came a week after Amazon’s annual shareholder meeting and a month after a […]

3 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Internet Washington...

Major Internet Upgrade and Expansion Planned This Year in Washington State

Comcast is investing $280 million this year to offer multi-gigabit Internet speeds to more than four million locations.

Compassion International...

Brock Huard and Friends Rally Around The Fight for First Campaign

Professional athletes are teaming up to prevent infant mortality and empower women at risk in communities facing severe poverty.

Emergency Preparedness...

Prepare for the next disaster at the Emergency Preparedness Conference

Being prepared before the next emergency arrives is key to preserving businesses and organizations of many kinds.

SHIBA volunteer...

Volunteer to help people understand their Medicare options!

If you’re retired or getting ready to retire and looking for new ways to stay active, becoming a SHIBA volunteer could be for you!

safety from crime...

As crime increases, our safety measures must too

It's easy to be accused of fearmongering regarding crime, but Seattle residents might have good reason to be concerned for their safety.

Comcast Ready for Business Fund...

Ilona Lohrey | President and CEO, GSBA

GSBA is closing the disparity gap with Ready for Business Fund

GSBA, Comcast, and other partners are working to address disparities in access to financial resources with the Ready for Business fund.

Pecan farmers get caught in power vacuum on Texas border