Eagle Pass fire chief on front line of border crisis reveals how they’ve been stretched thin for two years – with a loss of $21,000 a day, surge in drownings, no help from Biden and ambulances so busy they have to use private firms

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Written By Maya Cantina
  • Eagle Pass has quickly become the epicenter of the migrant crisis, last month seeing some 5,000 pass through on many days in the town of only 28,000
  • Last month the DHS shut down a rail bridge in the city for a month in a move that cost the city an estimated $500,000 to $1 million 

Democrat-run cities like New York and Chicago have complained that the migrant crisis has left them at breaking point.

They say the border crossers wading through the Rio Grande and hiking across the desert are overwhelming their communities when they head north.

But it’s the tiny Texas communities with barely any resources that are bleeding cash to deal with the historic influx of migrants into the U.S.

Eagle Pass has quickly become the epicenter of the migrant crisis. Last month, the city of just 28,000 residents saw 5,000 migrants pass through.

Local resources, including emergency services, have been stretched thin to the point where they are shedding thousands a month from the budget.

Last month the Department of Homeland Security shut down an international rail bridge in the city for a month to divert personnel to process migrants.

Fire Chief Manuel Mello estimated the move cost the city between $500,000 and $1 million in lost revenue, and they are not getting help recovering the funds.

‘That’s our main source for the city to sustain itself, from the bridge profits – commercial trucks and vehicle and pedestrian crossing,’ he told DailyMail.com in an interview.

Some 300,000 migrants crossed the U.S.-Mexico border in December, prompting the closing of four international bridges, one in Eagle Pass. 

While much of the immigration debate centers on big cities being overwhelmed with new occupants, the quiet community of Eagle Pass, Texas is now bleeding money from its own pot to handle the influx

Some 300,000 migrants crossed the U.S.-Mexico border in December, prompting the closing of four international bridges, one in Eagle Pass, pictured above

Some 300,000 migrants crossed the U.S.-Mexico border in December, prompting the closing of four international bridges, one in Eagle Pass, pictured above 

The city again came into the spotlight when over 60 House Republicans led by Speaker Mike Johnson visited with border agents and local law enforcement there. 

Groups of migrants were seen wading through the river and into the arms of border agents just as Johnson and his Republicans took a tour. A group of Venezuelan teenagers screamed ‘Ayudame! Help me!’ at the speaker as he stood on the riverbank.

But Rep. Tony Gonzales, R-Texas, who represents the area, suggested the city had been cleaned up, migrants diverted to cross in other sectors, for the congressional visit. 

‘I am grateful for my colleagues and grateful for the speaker to show up and the fact that all of a sudden, everything stopped. We needed that,’ he told reporters. ‘Eagle Pass was on the brink of having to release hundreds, thousands, of people onto the streets. The fact that House Republicans showed up today and all of a sudden everything got turned off is a win.’

Mello’s own local fire department gets called in to transport migrants to the hospital whenever there’s an emergency. They see everything from pregnant mothers going into labor, people who drown while crossing the Rio Grande or suffer heat strokes. 

From January to December the department was inundated with nearly 9,000 phone calls and had to transport 778 migrants to the hospital at its own cost. 

Eagle Pass Fire Chief Manuel Mello

Eagle Pass Fire Chief Manuel Mello

Each EMS transport amounts to around $700 in lost revenue – leading Mello to estimate his agency lost about $21,000 in revenue per day in the fall months of this year. 

And with overtime pay, vehicle maintenance and other factors, the department is going over budget by about $38-40,000, Mello said. 

The federal government has not been in touch about reimbursing the city, which could this year run out of money and have to tighten its belt. 

‘Sometimes we’ve got all five ambulances out and a fire truck is going to have to respond to an ambulance call,’ said Mello. ‘A medic will respond and sometimes we’ll have to call a private ambulance company.’ 

Mello said he and his team began feeling stretched thin around two years ago, and became even more inundated in the spring of this year. 

Last week the Biden administration asked the Supreme Court to step in on a legal case over the blade-studded concertina wire Abbott has placed along the border in the city

Last week the Biden administration asked the Supreme Court to step in on a legal case over the blade-studded concertina wire Abbott has placed along the border in the city

Migrants cross Rio Grande as Speaker Mike Johnson gives a briefing

Migrants cross Rio Grande as Speaker Mike Johnson gives a briefing 

International bridge pictured from riverbed

International bridge pictured from riverbed 

‘When all this started, all the focus was on law enforcement, border patrol DPS and the local law enforcement. But they were forgetting a big component of all this the EMS portion,’ said Mello.

Mello said the only one who has reached out is Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. ‘So Governor Abbott realized that and he called a meeting he helped us out with $400,000 for overtime he got us through a grant. He got us a boat, an airboat and an all-terrain vehicle.’ 

Abbott has been locked in a war with the Biden administration over border policies he enacted in Eagle Pass. 

Last week the Biden administration asked the Supreme Court to step in on a legal case over the blade-studded concertina wire Abbott has placed along the border in the city. The White House wants to tear it down. 

Speaker Johnson and 60 House Republicans tour border in Eagle Pass

Speaker Johnson and 60 House Republicans tour border in Eagle Pass  

Abbott already lost a case over floating barriers he placed in the Rio Grande. But shipping containers lined with National Guard members patrolling along the top still line the riverbed on the American side in Eagle Pass. 

The governor openly defied federal authority by having state law enforcement police the border, as he says border agents have been locked up in processing migrants into the country. 

On Wednesday the Justice Department filed a lawsuit challenging a Texas law Abbott recently signed giving police officers authority to arrest and turn away migrants that is set to go into effect in March. 

Abbott in recent years has stirred liberal lawmakers by sending migrants to northern cities to give them a taste of life in Eagle Pass.  

In 2023, the Eagle Pass fire department alone has counted 43 drownings of migrants who try to cross the Rio Grande. 

‘That’s a big number. When I first started here, back in 1992. We thought that six drownings in a year was you know, wow,’ said Mello. That number does not include drownings encountered by Texas Department of Public Safety or Border Patrol. It also did not include how many bodies were yanked from the river on the Mexican side. 

For now, Mello fears another bridge closing, and waits for the day he’ll be told he has to cut back on hiring and can’t buy new equipment his first responders need. 

‘When they close one bridge – or both of them – if they close both of them then we’ll really be hurting,’ he said. 

ᴀʀᴛɪᴄʟᴇ ꜱᴏᴜʀᴄᴇ

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