Anxiety settles in on South Texas after Trump victory

The shock of Donald Trump's presidential win was followed Wednesday by wariness and uncertainty as border residents wonder just how far he'll go to fulfill his campaign promises on immigration.

GOP Presidential candidate Donald Trump talks to reporters at the Laredo International Airport on July 23, 2015.

LAREDO, Texas — About 10 miles out from where Interstate 35 in Texas ends and Mexico begins, the crackle of the Spanish-language radio came to life on Wednesday as the disc jockey offered some unsolicited advice.

“Be vigilant at work, be vigilant driving,” he said to audience members who might be in the country illegally. “Remember that you have rights,” he offered before plugging an employment attorney whose clients are mostly immigrants from Mexico.

Immigrants are hard workers, he added, but they should heed his advice — especially after voters in America Tuesday ushered Republican Donald Trump into the White House.

The shock of Trump’s unprecedented victory is slowly turning into acceptance here, and creating anxiety over whether the New York real estate mogul will make good on his promises to deport 11 million people.

Perhaps no one is more aware than Pete Saenz, the mayor of this border city who took plenty of heat last year for hosting Trump on what the candidate dubbed a “dangerous” trip to the badlands. The visit came after Trump pledged to build a massive wall and deport the millions living in the country illegally.

“They’re nervous, and there is a degree of anxiety,” Saenz told the Tribune Wednesday afternoon. “I don’t think anyone — at least in this part of Texas — thought that Donald Trump would be our next president-elect.”

But while some envision a massive border wall and a secret deportation force that snatches up parents and leaves children to fend for themselves, Saenz is optimistic that Trump’s rhetoric was just campaign talk.

“As we know when we run for office — and we see it more so in presidents — they change their tune and tone, and we’re hoping that’s more the case and he’s more receptive,” said Saenz. “He sounded very cordial [during his acceptance speech], very humble, very presidential in my humble opinion, and I’ve seen that side of president-elect Trump and I am hoping that will continue."

While South Texas and the rest of the border overwhelmingly supported Democrat Hillary Clinton, Saenz said Trump might consider that the rest of Texas’ voters helped Trump earn more electoral votes, 38, than any other state that went for the Republican. He’s hoping that means leaders here and in Mexico will be a part of the dialogue when Trump crafts his border security and immigration plans.

Others aren’t so convinced.

“I hope he doesn’t [deport everyone],” said Janie Guerra, a 26-year-old Clinton supporter who said she knows undocumented immigrants living in Laredo. “They come here to work and really don’t mess with anyone. I’m nervous. I hope it was just campaign talk.”

Some Mexicans want to see Trump actually go through with his promise. — but only to see it blow up in the country’s face.

“I hope he does and not one Mexican stays on this side. Then we’ll see what [the Americans] do without the Mexicans,” said Monica Barrera, who lives in Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas and was in Laredo to shop Wednesday. “They are the ones that do the hard work. But he doesn’t care. At least I don’t think he does.”

Though her challenge to Trump was tongue-in-cheek, she did express concern over the plummet of the Mexican peso in the aftermath of Tuesday’s election. The currency fell about 13 percent Tuesday then rebounded slightly Wednesday. The current exchange rate in Laredo is 20 pesos to 1 U.S. dollar, which Barrera said could deter her from coming to Texas to shop.

It’s something Saenz is watching as well.

“The markets have reflected that anxiety,” he said. “We depend so heavily on shoppers from Mexico coming to border towns, especially Laredo, and we’re monitoring that as we speak.”

About 150 miles downriver in McAllen, mayor Jim Darling doesn’t seem as nervous. That’s because no matter which party is in power, Darling said his city won’t likely be affected much.

“As a border community, [what] we’ve always faced, whether it’s Austin or Washington, is fighting for our fair share, whether it’s a Democratic administration or a Republican administration,” he said. “I think we see things a little differently, and I think it’s more from a day-to-day process as opposed to a philosophical process.”

He did say a new administration, no matter what party, would at least present an opportunity to get noticed. But Darling also said that, based on past experiences, he’s not holding his breath.

“When Democratic congressmen come down, they go to a detention center and say how terrible it is. When the Republicans come down, they went on a [law enforcement] boat and a helicopter and said we need to secure our borders first,” he said. “And then they go back to Washington and not talk to each other. Hopefully in a new administration there will be some discussion as to what is real and fundamental immigration reform and what do you do with 11 million people. Because if you try and round them all up, most will die of old age before you do that.”

Back in Laredo, Ricardo Mendoza didn’t overthink the election much. The Mexican national with legal residency in Laredo and U.S. citizen relatives in Houston wasn’t worried about his few undocumented friends in Texas.

“They’ve always been worried [about being deported],” he said. “I don’t think there will be radical change.”

Read more Tribune stories on these issues: 

  • Trump’s victory gives Republicans the opportunity to dismantle Obama’s signature health law, and is causing deep-seated uncertainty for the health care market and millions of Texans with government-subsidized coverage.
  • President-elect Donald Trump easily won Texas’ 38 electoral votes Tuesday on his way to a stunning victory over Hillary Clinton. Here's a look at five takeaways from his victory, from a Texas perspective.