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How Residents Of Texas Border Towns Are Reacting To Trump's Plan To Send National Guard


National Guard troops have been stationed on the Texas border with Mexico for most of the past decade. Some, including Texas Governor Greg Abbott, welcome the latest plan from the Trump administration to send troops to help secure the border. Others are skeptical. Carlos Morales from Marfa Public Radio brings us this report from the border town of Presidio.

CARLOS MORALES, BYLINE: Laurie Holman's been teaching art in Presidio since the late '90s. Tucked in a remote corner of West Texas, this small town shares a border with Ojinaga in Mexico. I catch her preparing for an art show just off the city's main drag. Holman says the idea of National Guard troops stationed on the border makes her nervous.

LAURIE HOLMAN: If anything, it's going to make me more alert, more wary, more concerned. If I want to go out and - you know, with my shotgun, and I'm worried about rattlesnakes, now I got to worry about some 18-year-old, 19-year-old National Guard guy shooting me because he's thinking that I'm doing something wrong or illegal.

MORALES: Holman remembers a time when this part of the border was far more militarized in a government effort to curb drug smuggling. 37-year-old Velva Saenz remembers too. She works at a store just off the main drag.


MORALES: Saenz has mixed feelings about President Trump's plan.

VELVA SAENZ: I really don't know. I mean, I would think it should make us feel more safe.

MORALES: Most people here, she says, already feel safe. They leave their doors unlocked, and they know their neighbors both in Presidio and across the border.

SAENZ: But because of what happened with - a couple of years ago, with Esequiel, it kind of makes you think about it.

MORALES: Saenz went to school with Esequiel Hernandez. The young man was shot and killed by a Marine on a drug surveillance mission in 1997. Hernandez was herding his goats about 20 miles from Presidio and carrying an antique rifle to protect them from coyotes. Those events are still vividly remembered. A stretch of highway here is dedicated to him.

SAENZ: He graduated with me. So you know, we lived it with him. So it makes you think twice whether it's safe or not.

MORALES: Not everyone is thinking twice about more troops on the border. Texas Governor Greg Abbott, a Republican, praised Trump - saying in a statement that this, quote, "reinforces Texas's long-standing commitment to secure our southern border." Texas already has some National Guard troops performing surveillance elsewhere on the border right now. John Ferguson is mayor of Presidio.

JOHN FERGUSON: We've kind of been through that before with the National Guard.

MORALES: National Guardsmen have been coming on missions since the Reagan administration. About 6,000 National Guard troops were sent to the border under the George W. Bush administration. Another 1,200 were deployed under Obama. And Rick Perry sent Guard units while he was governor of Texas.

FERGUSON: If they're there to kind of assist the Border Patrol, and the Border Patrol wants and appreciates it, then I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing at all.

MORALES: Ferguson's lived in Presidio for 30 years. When he's not at city hall, he's down the street working at the school where he taught Esequiel Hernandez. While Mayor Ferguson says he wouldn't mind the Guard's presence, he does want accountability from the federal government.

FERGUSON: Depending on how long the National Guard would be stationed on the border, I think you need to be able say, OK, what effect is this presence having on the border?

MORALES: For now, residents want to find out more about how many troops could be coming and exactly how long they'd stick around. The president has directed the Pentagon and Homeland Security to work out a plan with governors of states along the U.S.-Mexico border. In Presidio, I'm Carlos Morales. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Carlos Morales
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