Here we go again.
Hundreds of National Guard troops on Friday began deploying to the Rio Grande Valley to guard the Southwest border, after President Donald Trump last week urged their activation, saying our border is lawless and allows anyone to come through.
“Our country has no effective border laws,” Trump tweeted.
We’ve played this song before, in 2014 when then Gov. Rick Perry activated 1,000 National Guard troops to our region as an uptick in illegal immigrants swelled through South Texas. At the time, we noted the restrictions that National Guard troops faced — not able to make actual apprehensions or arrests; not able to give chase. And so we ask how this time it will be better?
We also worry about the implications and perceptions to the rest of the world that militarizing the Southwest border will have on our communities.
Trump asked Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and governors from the other Southwest border states of California, New Mexico and Arizona to activate National Guard troops last week as a caravan of 1,000 migrants was making its way north from Central America. Although the caravan was halted in southern Mexico (and several hundred were deported by the Mexican government) President Trump used this incident to make a convincing case to Abbott, and the American public at large, that more troops are needed on the border to stop an onslaught of illegal immigrants who appear poised to invade our country.
Coincidentally, as Trump was asking for these troops, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials began issuing a barrage of news releases and statistics that seemed designed to bolster Trump’s case.
Department of Homeland Security Press Secretary Tyler Q. Houlton issued a statement Friday saying “the crisis at our Southwest border is real. The number of illegal border crossings during the month of March shows an urgent need to address the ongoing situation at the border.”
A CBP news release issued Friday afternoon from the Edinburg office carried the headline “Chaotic Border Environment in the Rio Grande Valley Sector.” It quoted RGV Sector Chief Patrol Agent Manuel Padilla Jr., saying: “the border region remains a dangerous place for law enforcement who face an array of dynamics in protecting our communities, from humanitarian efforts in regard to saving lives to being assaulted with rocks along the riverbanks.”
We acknowledge that statistics released last week by CBP show an uptick in immigrants — an overall increase of
37 percent in apprehensions for the Southwest border in March from February. However we note that annual arrest figures in our RGV sector, which runs from Rio Grande City to Brownsville, actually showed a drop in apprehensions of family units and unaccompanied minors this year from last. In fact, there was a 45 percent decrease in arrests of unaccompanied minors in fiscal 2018 from fiscal 2017.
So, other than the creeping caravan — which has since been stopped — is there really a justification for militarization of the RGV border at this time?
And what reparations, if any, are being made to help our region recover from being painted as lawless and full of criminals and gangs that facilitate the flow of drugs and human trafficking across the Rio Grande?
We are the same community that we were a week ago. We are the same people who awoke on Easter morning and cracked cascarones on our loved ones heads. We are the same farmers who work our fields, entrepreneurs who run our shops, and students who attend our schools.
We are the same volunteers who help immigrants at the Humanitarian Respite Center in McAllen after federal agents process and release them.
We have not changed, but unfortunately the perception of who we are has.
An apology is due to us all. And lawmakers need to take responsibility for their inactions, which have led to this point.
Rather than paint our region with a wide and disparaging brush, the burden of responsibility needs to fall squarely on the shoulders of those in Congress who have for decades failed to pass meaningful immigration reform. New laws are needed that would allow the best and the brightest from other nations to legally seek the American dream by quickly becoming taxpaying American citizens who could contribute to our economy and our society. Laws are needed that will better thwart those with nefarious intentions, like those pushing drugs and human trafficking, from entering our borders.
The federal government also must take responsibility for failing to hire more U.S. immigration judges to clear out the backlog of over 600,000 immigration cases, and for failing to hire thousands of Border Patrol and CBP agents. Congress has for the past few years repeatedly approved funds to hire immigration judges and these federal agents, but for whatever reasons, these positions remain vacant, indeed contributing to the immigration “crisis” that Houlton referred.
Filling these positions would have an impact on curbing illegal immigration. Dispatching the National Guard here will likely not.
We commend the guardsmen for fulfilling their call to duty, but given their legal limits, we doubt their effectiveness.
We recall how restricted these troops were when they first arrived in 2014. They were assigned to posts and not allowed to leave their areas. They also may not make arrests. If they saw a group of immigrants crossing illegally, for instance, they would call Border Patrol agents, but they could not themselves give chase. In their heavy, camouflage fatigues, we saw them sit for hours at a location, acting like pointers and eyes on the ground, but unable to do much more. Often it took Border Patrol agents some time to get to their areas, and by then, the immigrants many times had moved on and were well hidden.
Activating the National Guard just seems like a way to stir up Trump’s base.
As state Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, said: “This administration makes decisions based on impulse and distorts reality to fit their political agenda. We cannot and should not make decisions based on misinformation and politics. Yes, we must define and protect our borders. However, we should be smart and strategic about how we do it. This plan is neither.”
Working on a smart solution, by filling key positions of those who can have a real impact in stopping illegal immigration and reducing the number of immigration cases, is what is needed right now. Sending the National Guard here is more of an incendiary tactic that will rile the American masses, but do little to stem the tide of illegal entries.