The river that separates El Paso from Juarez, Mexico serves as a prominent, albeit unique access point for hundreds of people. Every summer, a dry, brown plain replaces the flowing water. Hundreds of people run across the riverbed to enjoy four-minute visits with their loved ones, a practice that skirts the law, but enjoys the approval of border patrol on both sides.
The tradition of embraces and picture taking is part of a family reunification event referred to as “Hugs Not Walls.”
El Paso is also known for another tradition and the latter could not be any more different from the former. Under a contract with the federal government, the city finds itself in an unlikely and highly important role in jailing hundreds of immigrants awaiting deportation.
Texas’ largest border city is part of a joint effort between the Trump administration and assists federal agents in their ramped-up immigration crackdown. As part of a longstanding agreement with the county, the U.S. Marshals use the space to hold inmates, most from the surrounding region, awaiting federal court hearings in El Paso.
El Paso County Commissioner Vincent Perez and other leaders see it as sending mixed messages. They have great sympathy for immigrants, whether they live in the United States or not and want the practice to stop and the contract to end.
Local officials and some advocates claim that the policy is more humane than ending an agreement that would push detainees to county jails or private detention facilities up to 80 miles away. Being held locally provides them with better access to both attorneys and family members, especially those without a car or licensed driver.
El Paso has many distinctions. Yet, one may not be as distinguished. The city currently takes in around 700 people daily. That number represents the most detainees of all of the cities and counties currently suing the state over the SB4 “sanctuary cities” law.
Regardless of any statistic, their county jail is being used to implement immigration policies area residents are vehemently opposed to.