(EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been updated with a comment from Laredo city officials.)
McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — A “Trump Train” caravan of vehicles that journeyed to the South Texas town of Laredo on Saturday was blocked from riding over an anti-border wall mural that veterans were repainting outside the federal courthouse, but the caravan received a police escort throughout the city, event organizers said.
Hector Garza, vice president of the National Border Patrol Council, who helped to organize the event, said it drew 4,000 vehicles and 7,000 participants to the border city on Saturday. Originally, the caravan had intended on driving over a giant street mural painted last month by members of the No Border Wall Coalition, but Garza said a week ago they learned that veteran volunteers from the coalition would be repainting the mural and they altered their route.
“Our intention was we had a tentative route that we were going to follow and that included driving over the mural on Victoria Street and that would have been symbolic to show that we don’t approve of that mural and we support the building of the wall in Laredo but we had been speaking with the city manager and mayor and city officials for two weeks and once we found out there would be veterans involved in the touch up, we agreed with the city manager that we would modify our route,” Garza told Border Report on Sunday afternoon.
Members of the grassroots No Border Wall Coalition told Border Report that they had secured a city permit to block the streets, and Laredo police officers were in the area to protect them and manage traffic so that veterans and their families of the newly formed Veteran United To Stop The Wall group could repaint the mural on Saturday. The bright yellow mural, which was first painted on Aug. 15 had already faded, had several tire marks on it and was in need of repair, Melissa Cigarroa, a coalition member, said.
A caravan of vehicles, many bearing American flags and Trump posters, drove through Laredo on Saturday, honking loudly and stirring opponents who stood on nearby street corners, yelling back. Garza said the caravan stretched two miles on Interstate 35 as it filed into the city, where participants met at 10 a.m on the banks of the Rio Grande. They then toured downtown riding around for about three hours.
A post to the TRUMP TRAIN MAGA Facebook group characterized the caravan as “a great peaceful event.” A news release put out by event organizers said it began in the Azteca neighborhood of Laredo and traveled more than 15 miles in the city.
Cigarroa said the vehicles in the caravan — many with out-of-state license plates — drove within blocks of the dozens of volunteers veterans and their families as they worked to touch up the mural on Saturday.
“They circled close by,” said Cigarroa, who has herself filed a lawsuit to stop federal authorities from entering her family’s ranch property in Zapata County to survey for a border wall. “But Laredo police and the city did a good job of blocking off streets.”
“The No Border Wall Coalition already had permits from the city to shut down the street. So the Trump Train wasn’t allowed to drive on it,” Cigarroa said Saturday afternoon.
Added Garza: “There were zero violent incidents, zero vehicle accidents and zero incidents,” associated with Saturday’s event. He said they worked with the city and police cars could be seen around the caravan in drone video of the event.
Joe Baeza, an investigator with the Laredo Police Department, said the street had been blocked off because the group No Border Walls Coalition had received a permit to touch up the paint. He said a police escort was given to the Trump Train for the safety of residents in town and those in the caravan.
“It was a public safety issue,” Baeza said Monday. “The arrangement with the police was more for safety. Intersections and flow of traffic was our concern. We’re glad the department ended up providing it because we had a quite a bit of people.”
Repainting the mural
The mural spans the width of the street in front of the George P. Karen Federal Building and reads “Defund the Wall” and “Fund Our Future.” The 30-foot letters are the same height of the proposed 30-foot-tall metal bollard wall that U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the Army Corps of Engineers is planning to build around the City of Laredo, group organizers say.
“Veterans United To Stop The Wall held the line, hosting an event with their families to retouch the mural instead and blocking the mural from being defaced,” organizers said in a news release.
The veterans formally announced the formation of their organization on Thursday. It is a wing of the No Border Wall Coalition, which has organized several community rallies and events to bring attention to the border wall in this city.
“We joined the military for different reasons: to defend our home, to protect our rights, or to take care of our families. The border wall is a threat to all of them,” Valentin Ruiz, a U.S. Army veteran who served with special operation forces, said in a statement.
Who participated in the Trump Train?
Garza said those who planned the event didn’t reach out to any outside organizations and only posted the event invitation in Laredo. He claimed 95% of the participants were from Laredo.
“We never had an idea of how many people would show up but the response was overwhelming. We literally ran out of space at the riverbanks,” he said.
“Honestly, today was the most white people I’ve seen in Laredo. That’s fine, but in a city that is 95% Latino it was pretty clear that these were mostly out-of towners,” said Maxine Rebeles, a U.S. Navy veteran participating in the mural repainting. “We were not engaging in any conflict, we basically said: ‘Welcome to Laredo!’”
Garza said he took offense to the comments. “I know some people made comments that there were out of towners and this was the most whitest they’ve ever seen Laredo and, first of all, that’s racist, but we have pictures to show this event was full of Laredoans.”
Cigarroa, who is a founding member of the coalition and president of the board of directors for the nonprofit Rio Grande International Study Center, touts that this historic city relies 100% on the Rio Grande for its drinking water source and she has repeatedly told Border Report that they worry what will happen if the border wall is built and they are cut off from the river.
“If people are coming out of town telling us what is best for us, and that we should accept a highly destructive border wall on our land when they are not going to pay the price, that’s wrong,” she said.
“For a parade of people who don’t live there to drive through there with signs saying ‘Build The Wall’ to people who will lose everything because of it, is deeply offensive,” said coalition member Juan Ruiz.
Sandra Sanchez can be reached at Ssanchez@borderreport.com.