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El Faso’s Desert Shield BY LOUIS DUBOSE El Paso, Texas; Anapra, Chihuahua E’S THE COLIN POWELL of the Southwest,” an El Paso Times reporter said during a brief conversation late last month. “And El Paso’s wondering when he’s going to announce.” Her characterization of El Paso Border Patrol Sector Chief Silvestre Reyes couldn’t have been better. The fifty-year-old El Paso native is a second-generation American whose grandfather came from Parral, Chihuahua. His Desert Shield and Desert Storm are “Operation Blockade” and its euphemistic successor, “Operation Hold The Line”the border blockade that for two years has shut off the movement of undocumented immigrants from Juarez into El Paso. He’s celebrated in Washington, where Bill Clinton and Kay Bailey Hutchison sing his praises. And the media love him \(although not everyone embraces him quite like Texas Monthly did last February, when Thaddeus Herrick’s fawning feature came close to violating the Texas Sodomy For months, while El Paso has been wondering, Reyes has been tiptoeing around the Hatch Act, which prevents civil servants from running for public office. “My own plans are a secret,” Reyes said in an interview in his office last month. “They’re so secret that I don’t even know about them.” \(Wellthey were not that secret. His supporters were already raising money, a local TV news reporter had told know when the time gets here.” By September 15, the day before Congressman Ron Coleman’s annual Diez-ySeis barbecue, Reyes’ time had comealmost. Over two days, at press conferences and receptions that he didn’t attend, Reyes’ supporters urged him to run against Coleman, the progressive who has represented El Paso since 1982, in the Democratic primary. That Reyes’ wife, mother, and brother urged him to retire Coleman suggests that Reyes is as close to announcing his intentionsor his inclinationsas fedIn an interview in late August, Reyes said that twenty-seven years in law enforcement have made him a conservative and that his record speaks for itself. He said the crowning achievement of his two-year tenure in El Paso is Operation Hold the Line: “It has drastically changed the way we do business on the border, changed it from a strategy of arresting and tabulating Silvestre Reyes ALAN POGUE the number of arrests to show effectiveness, to a strategy of deterrence.” Reyes described his programa line of agents in sight of one another posted along twenty miles of borderas the model for similar programs in California and Arizona, and for a program that will be implemented in South Texas sometime this year, “either in McAllen, Laredo, or Del Rio, depending on what’s decided.” THE BORDER SECTOR Reyes inherited two years ago was both a disaster and an opportunity. After years of complaints about officers tearing across south El Paso’s Bowie High School, his agency ended up on the losing end of a public-interest lawsuit: Murillo vs. Musegades. \(In fact, Bowie High Principal Paul Strelzin deserves much of the credit for Operation Hold the Line. Disgusted with officers violating his students’ constitutional rights, Strelzin began telling reporters, Border Patrol officers, lawyers, and anyone else who would listen that if the Border Patrol really wanted to seal the border it would line its agents up along the river instead of chasing border crossers across his campus and through El Paso’s Reyes immediate predecessor, Dale Musegades, a slightly largerthan-life agency cowboy, had cultivated an adversarial relationship with most of the community and was even embarrassed by ABC’s Good Morning America, when a Mexican woman slipped through a hole in a border fence and walked into the U.S.while cameras were rolling and Musegades was discussing his work on the border. For Reyes, who moved to El Paso after nine years as sector chief in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, there was no place to go but up. He went into the community, met with his predecessor’s critics and the few supporters who remained, and came up with a policy similar to the one Strelzin had outlined. Agents were posted on the border, “stationary, twenty-four hours a day in a high-visibility state,” Reyes said. Angry Juarenses, who for generations had commuted to day jobs and shopping in El Paso, temporarily closed two of the bridges linking El Paso and Juarez and, according to the El Paso Times, retail sales in downtown El Paso plummeted by five million dollars during the program’s first three months, . A large number of downtown retail outlets closed \(more are closing now, after this eral El Paso embraced Operation Hold the Lineand its native son who put the blockade in place. Downtown El Paso is an extension of Juarez, a city with a population estimated to be two to four times larger than El Paso’s half million, and the few El Pasoans who shop downtown are from poorer South El Paso. North of Interstate 10, the middlemalls, embraced the blockadethough some lamented the loss of their maids and gardeners. They embraced it, Reyes said, because Operation Hold the Line took the city back for them. “There were gangs on every corner. And glue sniffers, pick pockets, prostitutes and shoplifters,” Reyes told Texas Monthly. That was a year before most of the claims about the blockade’s effect on crime had been refuted by a major study directed by Frank Bean of the University of Texas Population Research Center. Reyes still insists that the quality of life in El Paso has been improved by the blockade. “The old border, and you saw it yourself, was one of chaosvery negative to both Juarez THE TEXAS OBSERVER 5