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The real drama at the border isn't in El Paso

Updated 7:24 AM ET, Tue February 12, 2019

Eagle Pass, Texas (CNN) - Security has dramatically intensified in this small border city in response to a caravan of migrants on the Mexican side of the border.

The total number of law enforcement and military personnel in Eagle Pass, Texas, now stands at more than 2,100 people, according to city officials. That's one for every 13 residents in town.

Eagle Pass, located about 500 miles southeast of El Paso, has a population of 26,500.

Officials began stepping up security as a group of some 1,800 migrants arrived a week ago just across the border in Piedras Negras, Mexico. They've been staying in an old warehouse that's been converted into a makeshift shelter.

It's likely this latest caravan of Central American migrants at the US-Mexico border will come up when President Trump takes the stage in El Paso for a campaign rally Monday night.

But city officials in Eagle Pass say it appears some in the group are already starting to turn back now that they realize it could be months before their cases are processed at the port of entry.

As of Saturday, at least 100 migrants had opted to return to their home countries, Eagle Pass Mayor Ramsey English Cantu told CNN. And the mayor said he expected that number to increase.

Immigrant rights advocates have criticized US officials for responding with stepped-up security rather than increasing the number of asylum seekers that can be processed daily at the port of entry.

About 16-20 cases can be processed daily, the director of the Eagle Pass Port of Entry said last week.

'It's very intimidating'

The sound of helicopters hovering overhead echoed in the streets of Eagle Pass over the weekend. Some passersby told CNN they were grateful. Others said it seemed excessive.

"I have never seen anything like that before," said Juan Olvera as he described the growing number of government vehicles parked along the Rio Grande.

Frank Guedea said the stepped-up security makes him feel safer.

"We don't know how they're going to react, what they're going to do when they cross," he said.

Tiffany Wright said it seems like state troopers are everywhere.

"It's very intimidating in my opinion. Obviously this much security is not needed. I haven't seen or felt unsafe at any point in my time here," she said. "I think it's more of a show of force. 'We're here. There's a lot of us.' It just kind of makes everybody feel like they're walking on eggshells."

Days of developments at the border

Eagle Pass isn't the only place along the border that's seen a spike in activity. In recent days, we've seen a dizzying array of developments elsewhere on the US-Mexico border.

In Tijuana, Mexico, US officials began implementing a new policy that will force some asylum-seekers to wait in Mexico while their cases make their way through US courts.

In Nogales, Arizona, city officials condemned the razor wire federal authorities recently wrapped around the border fence there, calling it dangerous and unnecessary.

Meanwhile, New Mexico's governor withdrew her state's National Guard troops from the border.

"I'm not going to participate, nor do I think it's appropriate in any shape or fashion to use the National Guard to attempt to militarize the border where we're dealing with asylum seekers whose ... constitutional rights continue to be breached," Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said last week.

Meanwhile, in Eagle Pass, the surge in security forces shows no sign of slowing down. Security has also intensified on the Mexican side of the border. More than 1,000 federal police officers and troops are guarding the shelter where migrants are staying, CNN affiliate FOROtv reported.

Mexican officials shared photos Monday showing members of their country's military inside the shelter in Piedras Negras.

Photos posted by Mexico's National Migration Institute on Twitter showed men in camouflage standing beside migrants, serving them food.


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