EL PASO, Texas (Border Patrol) – The U.S. Border Patrol honored its fallen heroes on Thursday with bagpipes, a 21-gun salute and a helicopter flyover at the National Border Patrol Museum in Northeast El Paso.
Agents read off the names of their 150 comrades who have died in the line of duty since 1924, including 15 who succumbed to vehicle accidents, illnesses acquired while on the job and other circumstances during fiscal year 2021.
El Paso agents Freddie Vazquez and Salvador Martinez were among last year’s casualties, as was Edgar Acosta Feliciano, of the nearby Deming, New Mexico, station.
El Paso Sector Chief Patrol Agent Gloria I. Chavez spoke of their courage and commitment to protecting the nation’s borders.
She also talked about the evolving relationship between those charged with holding the nation’s front lines and the communities in which they work. The agency and immigration activists have not always seen eye to eye, especially during migrant surges going back several decades.
“Over the years we have learned it’s better to work together as a team in times of challenges like these migration situations that happen at the border and at times become very (taxing) for Border Patrol agents,” Chavez said. “We can’t do it all. We need to partner whether it’s at the federal level, at the local level and even with our nonprofits.”
El Paso County Judge Ricardo Samaniego characterized the Border Patrol’s relationship with local governments as very good.
“I’m very proud of our relationship with the Border Patrol,” Samaniego told Border Report. “We’ve never seen this level of collaboration between agencies, whether it’s Border Patrol, FBI, the county or the city. It’s not a coincidence but through this collaboration that we have one of the safest cities in America.”
The El Paso Sector as of Thursday was averaging more than 1,000 daily “encounters” or apprehensions of migrants between ports of entry. The surge, which did not abate even after a federal judge in Louisiana continued to greenlight the quick expulsion of new arrivals under Title 42 authority, is straining migrant holding capabilities by both the Border Patrol and El Paso area nonprofit shelters.
“The Border Patrol is focused on who and what comes between those ports of entry,” she said. “Processing is critical, so we identify and classify who these people are. But after that [….] we don’t own that process,” Chavez said. “Our job is to ensure that people in our (temporary) custody are safe, healthy, clean and fed. After that, they transition somewhere else.”
Overcoming community mistrust
But activists like Carlos Marentes, director of the Border Farm Workers Center, say there’s a history of generations of mistrust between federal immigration agencies and the Spanish-speaking community.
He said those agencies remain the top civil rights offenders in El Paso.
“There’s a report issued every year that documents these abuses,” Marentes said. “Their role has always been to find and remove migrants at any cost. That has been their attitude, though perhaps it has become more subtle lately.”
Samaniego said migrants coming through El Paso are treated fairly and with respect at Border Patrol stations and processing centers.
“They’ve never been aggressive or hostile,” the county judge said. “Four years ago Bishop (Mark) Seitz and I started meeting with them once a month, now we meet every other week. I meet with Chief Chavez and (Port Director) Hector Mancha once a week. I think we are collaborating as best we can and we have a great relationship.”
Samaniego said the Border Patrol now reflects the community.
“Many of these agents came out of our schools or have children who go to our schools. We have to give them our respect,” he said. “I’m so proud they are El Pasoans because El Pasoans are kind, they’re generous and considerate. And I think Chief Chavez makes a huge difference.”
A recent study in Political Research Quarterly as well as research by University of Notre Dame Latino studies professor David Cortez, shows the Border Patrol workforce is now 50 percent Hispanic, while 30 percent of U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement (ICE) officers also are of Hispanic descent.