Newly elected Democratic mayor Arturo Garino was busy with Election Day when the Army arrived in Nogales and started erecting coils of glistening razor wire along the tops of the border wall that separates his small U.S. town from its sister in Mexico.
"Razor wire, concertina wire is not what you want to see on a fence with two countries that have been friends and traded forever," he said.
Operation Secure Line
President Donald Trump announced a little more than a week ago that he was sending troops to the border to support U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
"And now here we have a wire, you know, downtown, el puro downtown," Garino said.
Arizona immigration officials say troops are necessary to support CBP and ensure orderly crossings, especially as a large caravan of mostly Central American migrants approach the border. But some residents and local officials say say they're not needed.
The military action is called Operation Secure Line; the original monicker, Operation Faithful Patriot, was dropped shortly after the troops' arrival to the Southwest border.
Col. Larry Dewey, commander of the 16th Military Police Brigade from Fort Bragg, N.C., and his counterparts in CBP explained Friday that the main reason for the military buildup was the caravan of migrants making its way to the border from Mexico.
"Our mission is not to stop the caravan of migrants, rather we are here to support CBP personnel so they can continue to serve in a law enforcement capacity and encourage and enable the lawful and peaceful immigration," he said.
Rodolfo Karisch, chief of the Border Patrol's Tucson Sector, says that "over the last few years, we have seen significant increases in the number of Central American families and unaccompanied children who have been arriving at our border. It's been dramatic increases for us," he said.
At some points on the border, he said illegal crossings have doubled.
"The status quo is not sustainable. We're all seeing huge increases of people arriving, and we haven't even started to talk about the caravan," he said.
Worries about migrants rushing the border
The migrants reportedly intend to seek asylum further west in Tijuana. By Friday, CBP had brought in pallets of children's cereal, animal crackers, baby wipes and diapers to prepare for the migrants should they come to Nogales. And they have coordinated with northern Mexico officials and charities in the U.S. to help care for them. But officials worry migrants will try to storm the border.
Petra Horne is acting director of CBP's Tucson field office.
"Our goal is, if individuals are here to seek asylum, they need to do so in an orderly fashion," she said.
Horne said this caravan could pose a different risk than the caravan that arrived last April, which sparked tweets from President Trump and the mobilization of National Guard troops to the border. Despite concerns, 93 percent of the migrants on that caravan passed a credible-fear interview with CBP and were allowed into the country to continue the asylum process.
When asked why the deployment is happening now, Horne said, "Well, I can tell you that in Nogales where we sit today, we have had multiple groups trying to run through our vehicular lanes so it is already happening. We're wanting to get the message out in advance to warn these individuals not to do that."
'A nervous psychosis'
A CBP spokesperson said last week six families all attempted to run into the U.S. through vehicle lanes within 24 hours. Pedestrian lanes are carefully gated and can easily be controlled whereas open vehicle lanes are wide open.
Standing on a street corner in downtown Nogales, Vicente Valdez was talking about the buildup with a friend. He is a U.S. citizen who was born in Mexico.
"The U.S. has the right to secure its border," he said in Spanish, "but it's turning that into a nervous psychosis."
At the Santa Cruz County building in Nogales, Supervisor Bruce Bracker said the military presence is a classic symptom of Washington, D.C. not working with local officials.
"If they'd come down and asked people on the southern border what is it that you need, we would tell them. we need personnel for customs and we need personnel for Border Patrol."
At the port, carrying two heavy shopping bags, Mexico resident Alicia Romero prepared to cross back to her home.
"Crossing the border can take two, three hours," she said. Like Bracker, she'd prefer the U.S. spend its resources speeding up border crossings for visitors like her.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Parts of the caravan have been reaching a town at the U.S.-Mexico border. You remember the caravan. Before the election, President Trump warned of a, quote, "invasion" of asylum seekers. At the border, NPR's Carrie Kahn now reports small numbers of people, quote, "trickling in," seeking asylum - legally. Under President Trump's orders, more than 5,000 U.S. troops deployed against the not-invasion. From KJZZ's Fronteras Desk in Tucson, Michel Marizco reports on what some are doing.
MICHEL MARIZCO, BYLINE: Newly elected Democratic Mayor Arturo Garino was busy with Election Day when the Army arrived in Nogales, Ariz.
ARTURO GARINO: Aesthetically pleasing - it's not.
MARIZCO: The troops started erecting coils of glistening razor wire all along the tops of the U.S.-Mexico border wall that separates his small border town from its sister in Mexico.
GARINO: Razor wire, concertina wire is not what you want to see on a fence with two countries that have been friends and traded forever.
MARIZCO: President Donald Trump ordered the military to the border to shore up Customs and Border Protection. They're supposed to take over logistical and support jobs to free up Border Patrol agents and inspectors at the ports. But Garino worries that this razor wire and military buildup could chill relations with neighboring Mexican shoppers.
GARINO: You know, 65 percent to 70 percent of our sales tax comes from people that cross to Nogales, Ariz., to shop.
LARRY DEWEY: Good afternoon, and welcome. I'm Colonel Larry Dewey, commander of the 16th Military Police Brigade out of Fort Bragg, N.C.
MARIZCO: Dewey and his counterparts in CBP explained that the main reason for the buildup was a caravan of mostly Central American migrants making their way up to the border from Mexico. The troops are not allowed to have any direct contact with the migrants. That's CBP's job.
DEWEY: Our mission is not to stop the caravan of migrants, rather we are here to support CBP personnel, so they can continue to serve, you know, law enforcement capacity and encourage and enable the lawful and peaceful immigration.
MARIZCO: The caravaning migrants reportedly intend to seek asylum in the U.S. through further west, at Tijuana. Still, CBP has brought in pallets of children's cereal, animal crackers, baby wipes and diapers to prepare for them should they come to Nogales. But officials like Petra Horne, acting director of CBP's Tucson field office, still worry the migrants will overwhelm border agents.
PETRA HORNE: Our goal is, if individuals are wanting to seek asylum, they need to do so in an orderly fashion.
MARIZCO: Of the several hundred migrants on a caravan that arrived peacefully last spring, 93 percent passed an initial credible fear interview with CBP and were allowed into the U.S. Horne worries the sheer number of migrants moving north means this time may be different.
HORNE: Well, I can tell you that in Nogales, where we sit today, this past week, we have had multiple groups trying to run through our vehicular lanes, so it is already happening.
MARIZCO: Standing on a street corner in downtown Nogales, Vicente Valdez was talking about the military buildup with a friend. He is a U.S. citizen who was born in Mexico.
VICENTE VALDEZ: (Speaking Spanish).
MARIZCO: "The U.S. has the right to secure its border," he says.
VALDEZ: (Speaking Spanish).
MARIZCO: "But it's turning that into a nervous psychosis," he says. The first of the migrants have already arrived in the border city of Tijuana, where they will be told to wait in line at the port of entry to ask CBP officers for asylum. For NPR News, I'm Michel Marizco in Nogales, Ariz. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.