By Lisa Morton
Valentine Mayor Summer Webb had a question and answer forum with local Custom and Border Protection (USCBP) personnel at the Valentine Community Center last week. The event was attended by about 50 town folk, area ranchers, land owners around the Lobo Valley, and concerned citizens. Mayor Webb said locals, including herself, are looking to the Border Patrol on the Do’s and Don’ts regarding the recent influx of illegal immigrants crossing in the area.
Agent Jose Aleman, of the USCBP Van Horn, introduced several agents from the Big Bend Sector including Andrew Hinojos, Chloe Beecher, Shane Jahn and Joel Garcia and joined by the Office of Public Affairs representative, Greg Davis. Agent Aleman familiarized the audience with their areas of responsibility and provided their contact information for Sierra Blanca, Van Horn, Marfa, Alpine, Presidio, and Sanderson, the area known as the Big Bend Sector.
Attendees told agents about recent experiences that have prompted the need for quicker response by Border Patrol. They have been approached by large groups of people, some aggressively demanding the use of telephones, vehicles driving around in the early hours with their headlights off, and even a physical altercation when a man forced his way inside a home in Valentine. Some in attendance were concerned about the danger with these larger groups and had concerns that any immigrants may be armed. Agents reassured the audience that they had not found any armed immigrants in recent history either with narcotics or just coming across the area.
Valentine School Superintendent Debbie Engle, and some staff members, as well as parents of students, wanted to know about direct communication with the Border Patrol, especially when a search near the school is involved. “We go into an immediate lock-down when we hear the helicopters circling”, said Supt. Engle. “No one calls us to let us know anything that’s going on, so we have no choice.” Agents assured Engle that there would be more direct communication with the school in the future during these situations.
The Big Bend Sector staffing versus the surge in activity, has increased the demand for additional manpower and technical support, which should arrive in the area in the near future. The USCBP has 19,000 agents responsible for 8,000 miles of border including the coastal border at this time. Agents advised everyone to contact their state and federal representatives with their unique experiences and concerns with the influx of immigrants in the area. “It is a challenge but it is a challenge we are willing to take on and overcome”, said Agent Aleman. The Big Bend Sector Radio 24/7 number provided 1-866-581-7549, which is the best number to call with information or requests for help dealing with assumed illegal immigrants.