© Reuters. A participant of ‘Take Back Our Border’ rally against migrants crossing from Mexico, rides a motorcycle before the event starts at Cornerstone Children’s Ranch in Quemado, Texas, U.S., February 2, 2024. REUTERS/Go Nakamura
By Ted Hesson and Maria Alejandra Cardona
QUEMADO, Texas (Reuters) – Protesters who trekked in a vehicle convoy to Texas this week, including some flying pro-Donald Trump banners alongside American and Texas flags, are expected to rally against illegal immigration near the U.S.-Mexico border on Saturday.
Dozens of cars gathered outside a Christian children’s ranch in the remote town of Quemado on Friday night, some adorned with Trump paraphernalia and other conservative messages.
Border security remained an overarching theme, but protesters also carried signs opposing the Black Lives Matter movement while others spoke of unfounded government conspiracies related to COVID-19 vaccines.
Immigration has become a potent political issue in an election year likely to see a rematch between Trump, a Republican, and his Democratic successor, President Joe Biden.
Trump has motivated his base voters with calls for more restrictive border practices, while critics worry such policies and events like the convoy could fuel anti-immigrant sentiment.
Rob Brace, a 79-year-old retired podiatrist, rode his motorcycle alone eight hours from McAllen, Texas, to greet the convoy, saying he felt compelled to come because of the high levels of illegal immigration.
“People just seem to ignore the fact that our country is in a very bad situation,” he said.
A long line of cars, trucks and campers paraded into the ranch around 8 p.m. with horn honking and cheers.
The “Take Our Border Back” protest began with a vehicle convoy that trekked from Virginia to Quemado, near Eagle Pass – a border area at the forefront of legal and political disputes over immigration enforcement. Smaller events were planned in Yuma, Arizona, and San Ysidro, California.
U.S. Representative Keith Self, a conservative Republican who represents a district in northeast Texas, plans to speak at Saturday’s rally. Whether other lawmakers or national figures might appear remained unclear.
Conservative personalities Sarah Palin, a former Republican vice presidential candidate, and Ted Nugent, a rock musician and outspoken gun rights proponent, made an unannounced appearance on Thursday as the convoy overnighted further north in Dripping Springs, Texas.
While some at Thursday’s event spoke of religious values, Nugent called Biden a “devil-scum snake” in a caustic speech before performing the U.S. national anthem on guitar.
Organizers have billed the convoy and rally as peaceful, but some extremism experts are concerned about the message it sends.
Minnesota-based pastor Doug Pagitt tried to enter the ranch on Friday after stopping in the area as part of a tour to combat what he calls “Christian nationalism,” but was denied entry as participants told him “you’re not wanted.”
“We want to engage,” Pagitt said afterward.
The number of migrants arrested trying to cross the U.S.-Mexico border has climbed to record highs since Biden took office in 2021. After a spike in December, migrant arrests fell by 50% in the first half of January, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP).
Internal CBP statistics reviewed by Reuters showed 216 migrant arrests on Tuesday across the entire Del Rio Sector, which covers a 245-mile (400-km) stretch of the Rio Grande and encompasses Eagle Pass. In mid-December, that figure at times topped 4,000 per day, internal figures show.
U.S. officials have cautioned the slowdown could be seasonal although the Mexican government also increased enforcement.
Eagle Pass has achieved national prominence in recent months as Texas’ Republican Governor Greg Abbott has clashed with Biden over the state’s aggressive tactics to deter crossers, including troops, concertina wire and a floating buoy barrier in the Rio Grande.
Abbott and 14 other Republican governors plan to hold a press conference in Eagle Pass on Sunday to defend the state’s border security tactics.
Reuters witnesses on Friday saw two migrants who crossed the Rio Grande near Eagle Pass penned in between two barriers of concertina wire as they shaded themselves with cloth to avoid the sun.