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In border towns, expected chaos after Title 42 ended hasn't materialized


A Trump-era immigration policy known as Title 42 expired last week. There were expectations that this would lead to an increase in the number of people coming into the U.S. through many of the country's southern border towns. In the past several days, that increase has not materialized, and people living in those border towns say they often resent this kind of attention. NPR's Ashley Lopez reports.

ASHLEY LOPEZ, BYLINE: The day before Title 42 expired, Brenda Gomez was walking around downtown Brownsville. Gomez says she loves living here. She says because it's on the border, the city is a mix of Mexican and American cultures.

BRENDA GOMEZ: I grew up in Mexican culture, so I feel I'm at home. Every time I travel outside of the valley, I like it. But it just feels home whenever you come back here. So I like the culture. I like the people.

LOPEZ: Brownsville is one of the southernmost cities in the U.S., right on the border between Texas and Mexico. Often these cities get media attention when something happens with U.S. immigration policy. Gomez says crossing back and forth between the two countries is just part of life here.

GOMEZ: I travel to Mexico a lot, so every time I go into Mexico and then I come back and I see people wanting to cross over or just people being held there for so long, it has its pros and its cons.

LOPEZ: On the one hand, Gomez says, she's OK with people coming to the U.S. in search of a better life. But she says people already living in these border towns need help, too. Dani Marrero Hi is with a group called LUPE, which is a generations-old community organizing group that works in the Rio Grande Valley.

DANI MARRERO HI: Immigration is something that is important for the families that are already here and the families that are arriving. But I think what we hear most is, for example, access to good-paying jobs, our infrastructure.

LOPEZ: They say recent thunderstorms, which were relatively mild, cause school closures and widespread flooding due to poor drainage in border communities. Marrero Hi says basic public resources like roads, water and electricity are top of mind, and immigration is just in the mix.

MARRERO HI: I think where we get dismayed is when we hear, like, the state or national conversation or the way Governor Abbott or at times even President Biden talks about the border. It just doesn't feel like they're ever talking directly to us.

LOPEZ: And the way the media and politicians talk about border towns and immigration is perhaps the biggest frustration. Rudy Flores works downtown near a border crossing. He says a lot of what he hears in the media doesn't really line up with his experience.

RUDY FLORES: They're making it seem worse than it is. It's just calm. They're just trying to get somewhere. And I don't mind it, honestly.

LOPEZ: He says he's lived in Chicago and Colorado, and he's happy to be back in Brownsville. On the day after Title 42 expired, Flores says it was barely noticeable that anything had changed here.

FLORES: For me, nothing has changed even though I work downtown. Just a little bit more traffic, foot traffic - but other than that, it's normal to me.

LOPEZ: In fact, federal officials say border crossings are actually down since the Trump-era policy expired. Dani Marrero Hi with LUPE says the expectations are almost always wrong when there is news on the border, and this time is no different.

MARRERO HI: It's not at all the picture that I think people want to portray. It's much more like families and individuals among the most vulnerable in the world trying to find shoelaces, deodorant and a way to reunite with their families here.

LOPEZ: Even though the media spotlight shows border towns like Brownsville as ground zero for the national immigration debate, Marrero Hi says life goes on for the people who live here. Ashley Lopez, NPR News, Brownsville, Texas.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ashley Lopez
Ashley Lopez is a political correspondent for NPR based in Austin, Texas. She joined NPR in May 2022. Prior to NPR, Lopez spent more than six years as a health care and politics reporter for KUT, Austin's public radio station. Before that, she was a political reporter for NPR Member stations in Florida and Kentucky. Lopez is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and grew up in Miami, Florida.