By Nick Braune
Mid-Valley Town Crier
Over the last two months, it has become apparent to me that Homeland Security and the groups under its umbrella are deliberately making their immigration policy more mean-spirited. This was evident in a Postville, Iowa immigration raid, where almost three hundred undocumented workers were taken to the local fairgrounds for a makeshift court, found guilty and sent to prison for five months, to be followed by deportation.
This same meanness is also evident in the way the Border Wall construction is beginning in July in the Rio Grande Valley, despite overwhelming opposition by the residents. And it is evident in Operation Streamline, a machine-like, street-level enforcement policy criminalizing the undocumented.
And yesterday I received even more evidence of Homeland Security’s intentionally mean and taunting stance.
A friend, Dr. Lee Basham, who teaches philosophy at South Texas College and is an independent filmmaker, sent me an email with some news that I knew had upset him quite a bit.
Basham and a history teacher colleague made a film, “Joined at the River,” last year; it dealt with a little community, Candelaria, Texas, which is on the Mexico border about 130 miles southeast of El Paso. In this village of Candelaria, there was a sturdy footbridge to Mexico which local people had used for decades.
This walkway facilitated a wonderful spirit of community between the two sides of the river, a spirit which Basham’s film attests to eloquently. But last week the Border Patrol sent in bulldozers, destroying the bridge.
Basham suggested I check a website reporting the incident: “Glenn’s Texas History Blog,” maintained by Glenn Justice. Justice reports that when he arrived, the bridge had just been torn down and the road was blocked by “heavily armed, but polite, Border Patrol” agents. They were loading the broken pieces of the bridge onto a flatbed truck.
“Across the river on the Mexican side, a few amazed locals waved back to us. It was a swift and efficient removal. Yesterday it was there, today it is gone.” Justice bitterly headlined his commentary, “Candelaria Bridge is Gone: Another Brick in the Wall.” I interviewed Basham about it.
Nick Braune: I checked the website you forwarded to me, and it was a shock to me too, because I have seen your documentary.
Lee Basham: I have two hours of footage of local people using the bridge to visit family and transport food.
The bridge was hand-built by local citizens and is the property of those who built it — the communities it joined. It’s a striking steel structure, partially welded out of car frames and steel cable, and it had been in place for 50 years. It joined the small town of Candelaria, with a population of maybe 50, to the slightly larger town of San Antonio Del Bravo, with a population of about 150. Both are farming communities, growing hay, onions, corn and similar crops, and pasturing herds of goats on the narrow valley floor that twists through the rugged canyon that the river cuts.
Braune: Could you tell us more about how the bridge was important?
Basham: Well, the Candelaria Bridge was used to procure gasoline (carried in 6 gallon gas-cans), milk, and medicine. And it allowed the daily visits of families and friends from both sides, as well as allowing the residents to travel to Presidio for work (some 60 miles away) and to get farming supplies. It was neither a reputed drug crossing nor a portal of illegal immigration. Its purpose and use was local traffic.
The bridge also allowed area residents to send their children to school, with the children spending their evenings or weekends at home in San Antonio Del Bravo. Finally, the bridge was the only way out for medical care in emergencies. Residents must now brave the muddy torrents, carrying their sick, crippled and injured through the river, risking drowning, if they are to get them to the care of a doctor or the services of a hospital.
Braune: Doesn’t the Border Patrol know about this healthcare issue?
Basham: Sure they do. It was this healthcare issue that a Border Patrol agent (Agent Salinas, originally of McAllen), once told me had compelled the BP to leave the bridge unmolested. “It’s a humanitarian duty”, Salinas remarked. “People could die if they didn’t have the bridge to use during high water.” These statements were made in an interview conducted by me two years ago.
So, apparently, that sacred duty–to save lives–no longer interests the US Border Patrol in the Marfa sector of West Texas. Let them die, or drown trying to live. This is the new policy in effect there. Local residents, Anglo and Hispanic, are horrified.