The gap between the undocumented Central American migrants crossing the border and the Latino residents of the valley is deep and wide.
Many residents are Mexican Americans who have lived in the region for four or five generations, or proudly declare that their parents and grandparents came to the United States legally. They know both border police officers and undocumented Mexican immigrants who have lived and worked for years in border towns. Those who are Republicans say they don’t see their views on immigration as hypocritical or anti-Hispanic. Instead, they see themselves as a stronghold for law and order. Several thousand border police officers live and work in the region, many of them Hispanic, adding to a pro-law enforcement ethos that is showing up in churches, schools and local politics.
“We’re in a war — a war of ideas,” said Jessica Martinez, 33, a Brownsville stay-at-home mom who said she never voted until she voted for Mr. Trump in 2020 after becoming frustrated with liberals’ relentless outrage against him. . “That’s how we see it as Christians. We feel attacked.”
In Harlingen, Mr. Cabrera converted the entrance of the church into retail space. He displays and sells T-shirts that read Make America Godly Again and Make America Repent. For years, he said, he avoided talking about politics from the pulpit. But in the past year, he has hosted several Republican leaders in the church, including Mr. Abbott.
“I want to bring God back into politics,” said Mr. Cabrera. “And so that’s what I’m working on.”
‘I’m concerned about our values’
Joe Cadriel, a 57-year-old Desert Storm veteran of the Gulf War and a retired social worker, has rarely placed campaign ads in his front yard. But he made an exception for Mrs. Flores, the Brownsville Republican running for Congress.
Cadriel and his wife, Diana, a retired schoolteacher, both voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016 and cast their vote for Mr. Trump four years later, confident he would best protect the southern border, just 10 miles from their Weslaco. home.
The couple grew up in the Rio Grande Valley as the children of conservative Democrats, and they harbored a proud independent streak. Mr Cadriel has been outraged by illegal immigration for as long as he can remember – he said he once quit a job because he was too angry to see food stamps and other benefits going to children of unauthorized immigrants.