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Bearing the brunt

IMMIGRATION | The economic fallout of illegal immigration hammers ranchers and business owners on the southern border

Lewis Stock (left) at his ranch in Eagle Pass, Texas Photo illustration by Rachel Beatty; Lewis Stock: Bonnie Pritchett; Migrants: John Lamparski/NurPhoto/AP; Bridge: Robin Jerstad/Zuma Wire/Alamy

Bearing the brunt
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Lewis Stock wears denim on denim, brown cowboy boots, and a straw hat covering the crown of his chin-length gray hair. On a breezy March evening, the sun sinks low and casts a golden glow across his 750-acre ranch, home to thousands of cattle and gnarled mesquite trees outside Eagle Pass, Texas, a small border city of about 29,000 residents. Stock, 63, leans against his white pickup as he watches two friends race each other on horses to rope a young cow in a large corral.

But life at the sprawling ranch isn’t as serene as the idyllic setting might suggest. Stock and his business partner daily encounter slashed fences or trash such as old clothes and water bottles strewn across their property—evidence of the illegal immigration crisis at the southern border that officials say reached a record 2.76 million crossings in fiscal year 2022. As migrants flood South Texas communities and border cities like Eagle Pass, ranchers and small-business owners say the economic fallout is taking a toll on their land and livelihoods.

The Union Pacific Railroad slices Stock’s land in half, and the graffiti-covered boxcars that travel its tracks often carry uninvited guests. On March 25, railroad police found 12 immigrants trapped in a boxcar near Stock’s property. One adult male died in the car.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott requested border residents track property damage costs related to the immigration influx. Stock and his partner tallied about $100,000 in damages during the past year and a half, including the costs of replacing cut fencing. The state’s border security initiative, Operation Lone Star, provides border enforcement funding to overwhelmed counties in the path of the crisis. A Texas Department of Public Safety officer also patrols Stock’s property.

Other costs are harder to quantify. Stock also heads a general contracting company that works with real estate developers. In a recent virtual conference call, Stock met with a developer who was having second thoughts about investing in the borderlands. “They are very apprehensive considering coming to Eagle Pass,” he says.

Oscar and Miriam Salinas

Oscar and Miriam Salinas Bonnie Pritchett

Small businesses in town testify to the effects of illegal immigration as well. Oscar and Miriam Salinas own Revive Coffee Shop, which sits off a busy city thoroughfare. Someone abandoned stolen U-Haul trucks in their parking lot earlier this year. It took multiple calls to U-Haul to get them removed. The couple believes smugglers had used the trucks to transport migrants out of Eagle Pass.

After President Joe Biden announced more restrictive border measures in January, large group ­border crossings decreased and the couple found less discarded clothing on the ranch behind their café. But law enforcement officials said they expected crossings to spike again after the pandemic expulsion policy, Title 42, ends this month.

It took the Salinases, who were born in Mexico, years to get permanent residency in the United States. They wrestle with how to follow the Biblical injunction to welcome the stranger while upholding the law. “Regardless, we should be lending a hand,” Oscar says. When crossings skyrocketed last fall, the couple gave food and water to asylum-seekers asking for help. They said they pray for discernment whenever they open their doors.

It took the Salinases, who were born in Mexico, years to get permanent residency in the United States.

Michelle and Rudy Treviño opened LuxBod in downtown Eagle Pass last June. The health spa is about a mile from the port of entry. As summer crossings ramped up, the couple noticed immigrants passing by the black-and-white building wearing ­tell-tale backpacks and disoriented expressions. One couple asked for directions while the Treviños were outside putting up decorations. “They were scared,” she says. “They were very, very confused about where to go.”

During last summer’s immigrant surge, the Treviños made sure their young, female employees were never alone. Michelle tries to walk the line between compassion and safety for her business and employees, saying she’ll offer immigrants food and water but won’t let them come into the spa. “Everybody’s a little bit more on edge,” Michelle says, noting that after border surges late last year, “there were not a lot of locals coming downtown anymore.”

Migrants who crossed the Rio Grande illegally in Eagle Pass, Texas.

Migrants who crossed the Rio Grande illegally in Eagle Pass, Texas. Eric Gay/AP

The Treviños, who also own a duplex in the neighboring rural town of Quemado, two years ago had to hire an agent to do background checks on potential renters—a way of guarding against inadvertently renting to smugglers who might be looking for an immigrant stash house.

Back at the ranch, Stock is hopeful the current influx won’t do irreparable damage. “This border is going to continue to flourish,” he says, noting that Eagle Pass has a booming import-­export business with Mexico. But he wishes more politicians would walk in the shoes of landowners and other ­border residents. “They’re not in tune with what’s going on in these ranches,” he says.

Addie Offereins

Addie is a WORLD reporter who often writes about poverty fighting and immigration. She is a graduate of Westmont College and the World Journalism Institute. She lives in Austin, Texas, with her husband, Ben.


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