Your office has announced that you plan to visit the U.S.-Mexico border this week to “meet with those on the front lines of the national security and humanitarian crisis,” according to press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders. We welcome the announcement, and hope you use the trip to gather information as well as give it.
Certainly, we welcome you to the Rio Grande Valley, a place you’ve never seen to our knowledge.
As people who live on the border and see every day the real dynamics of life here, who deal with policies enacted half a country away in Washington, we hope you spend enough time to talk to people involved in the many facets of this complicated issue — whose opinions are forged in the realities of life on the border and not those who make assumptions from 1,500 miles away.
We assume you will visit Homeland Security officials. We suggest that you also talk to the officers who patrol our borders and interact daily with people who seek entry to our country. Ask them how the current wave of migrants, who actually want to find the officers and seek asylum, differs from economic immigrants of the past who wished to remain undetected as they lived and worked here.
Spend time at one of our ports of entry, viewing both private individuals and commercial freight trucks that cross — both ways. Note how many vehicles and goods not only enter this country to meet consumer demand, but also how much U.S.-made merchandise and produce is shipped south to keep our own producers in business and creating jobs here. Look at how many Mexican residents cross daily to visit our doctors, shop in our stores and create other revenue in our economy.
Talk to economists about border trade, and spend some time with shrimpers and farmers who rely on immigrant labor; some have been forced to remain in port or let crops rot in recent years because they could find no workers at harvest time.
Visit a processing center that deals with undocumented migrants who are detained. Look at them — try to talk to some of them — as they try to explain why they prefer the security of a U.S. detention facility to life in their homeland, wondering if their children will live to see adulthood.
Swing by one of the many centers, such as the Catholic Charities respite center in McAllen, that tend to migrants’ needs after they are released. Let workers there tell you some of the stories they’ve heard from those who’ve walked thousands of miles, often with children in tow, just to get here. Think of how much value they place in the promise the U.S represents — which many native-born Americans take for granted — that makes such a long and treacherous trip worthwhile.
Will such a visit change your mind? Maybe not. But at least you will have shown a willingness to learn what’s really happening on the border. Maybe you can gain information that can enrich the debate, and spark dialog that can break the impasse and help forge real, effective and beneficial border policy.