EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – Migrant crossings have plummeted in a mile-long stretch of Downtown El Paso where the Texas Army National Guard has set up concertina wire and portable fencing along the Rio Grande.

The guard began setting up the barrier last week at a gap in the border wall west of the Paso del Norte port of entry. In the space of eight days, the barbed wire has nearly reached a second port of entry and chain-link fence anchored by sandbags extends even farther. The result is that asylum seekers can no longer walk across ankle-deep water in the Rio Grande and turn themselves in to waiting Border Patrol agents in that area.

“The difference is vast,” said 1st Sgt. Suzanne Ringle. “The 19th, the 20th and the 21st we had large groups of families and individuals who were wanting to come across. Now, it’s almost a ghost town out there.”

She attributed that to the “visual deterrent” of the barbwire, parked Humvees and soldiers patrolling the area with their semi-automatic rifles. As of Tuesday, 600 guard members were in El Paso on border security duty associated with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s Operation Lone Star.

Sometime on Tuesday afternoon, nine shipping containers materialized on the U.S. bank of the Rio Grande just west of the Texas National Guard position. In a Zoom call with reporters, El Paso Deputy City Manager Mario D’Agostino said the city “had no optics” on the placement of the containers along the river.

Shipping containers now line the Rio Grande in El Paso, Texas, just west of the Texas National Guard position near the Paso del Norte Bridge. (Border Report/KTSM photo)

“That authorization does not come from the City of El Paso. We have no optics on that. I don’t know who sent them out there,” D’Agostino said.

The Border Patrol referred all questions about the containers to the Texas Division of Emergency Management. Border Report sent the agency an email regarding the containers and is awaiting a response.

Ringle said many of the soldiers taking part in the El Paso operation are local residents, which means they were able to go home to their families at the end of their shifts on Christmas.

Small groups of people, including a family with small children, on Tuesday walked along the concrete-lined Mexican levee, looking for a place to cross. When they couldn’t find one, they walked back to Juarez, Mexico.

Asylum seekers plead for chance to come across

“We go through so many things to get here, and they don’t let you to cross,” said Jose Ramon Aguilera, a migrant from Venezuela standing on the Mexican side. “It is not fair. We want to enter; we want an opportunity. I am a step away from being over there. We asked the authorities in the United States, President Biden, an opportunity to enter their country and show them we came to work, not to rob.”

The Biden administration has set up a special program for up to 24,000 eligible Venezuelans to apply for asylum remotely. Those who have crossed into the U.S. after October 13 are ineligible and subject to expulsion under the still-in-force Title 42 public health order.

Aguilera said an injury prevented him from coming to the border earlier. “I spent seven days in the jungle, drinking river water, starving, seeing people dying. I rode The Beast (a cargo train in Southern Mexico) and that was another trauma. My feet froze. I could not get off the train.”

But with thousands of Venezuelans like Aguilera still in Juarez, many who run out of resources are either turning themselves in to the Border Patrol or coming across the border wall and venturing across 60 to 70 mile-per-hour traffic along El Paso’s Border Highway (Loop 375).

Ronald on Tuesday afternoon sat on the sidewalk near Sacred Heart Catholic Church in South El Paso, waiting to raise bus fare to reach Houston, where he hopes to work in the construction industry.

“There is too much corruption, too much crime (in Venezuela),” the Venezuelan native said while eating from a lunch pack distributed by area nonprofits. “In Mexico there is crime, too. I can’t stay there. They robbed me (in Southern Mexico). They took my money. In the Darian Gap (Panama) they also robbed me of my documents, my cell phone.”

The Border Patrol says migrants who did not report to a port of entry or turned themselves in to federal immigration agents when they crossed the border are subject to Title 42 expulsions and/or expedited Title 8 removals.