COMMENTARY: Border crisis is complex


The border is in crisis. And it is not.

The Department of Homeland Security faces a difficult challenge. Tens of thousands of migrants cross the southern border of the United States every month. There are not enough agents to apprehend or process them. Border Patrol has to separate drug and human smugglers from the people who migrate here simply to escape persecution or poverty in their homeland and are looking for a better life. There are not enough facilities to house all these people, enough agents to process them all or enough immigration judges to decide the avalanche of cases.

People who own property adjoining the border and many ranchers face a crisis. Migrants cross the Rio Grande, trespass on their property and sometimes cause property damage. Some of those migrants are the bad guys.

The migrant surge is a crisis for our non-profit charitable organizations. Our communities call upon nonprofits such as Catholic Charities, Loaves and Fishes, Good Neighbor Settlement House and Ozanam Center to help the many thousands of migrants released from detention into our communities by Homeland Security. Staff members work long hours. Resources are stretched and sometimes diverted from other programs.

The border is in crisis. And it is not.

The population of the Rio Grande Valley is about 1.3 million people. Nearly all of them are not affected by the crisis at the border in any way. Here in Harlingen thousands participate in Market Days, sports, church and cultural activities, 5k races and concerts. Not one community event has been impacted by the migrant crisis at all. Thousands of people go about their daily business not noticing the Loaves and Fishes van shuttling migrants through downtown Harlingen between the bus station and the shelter all day long. Migrants are not out wandering the streets. They are at the bus station, at the airport or at the shelter. They leave the Valley just as soon as they can. All of them. No more than 100 Harlingen residents have had any interaction with them.

For most people in the Rio Grande Valley there is no crisis whatsoever. Except for Homeland Security personnel 99%of people in the Valley never even see a single migrant. If the migrants are invisible to the Rio Grande Valley, imagine how invisible they are in the rest of the country. Talk show hosts and politicians rise in righteous indignation at the crisis at our border. Many people are furious that Congress and the president have not solved the problem. Unfortunately, not a few bigots have shown their true colors.

I have talked to hundreds of migrants over the past couple of months. Greater border security is not going to solve the problem of migrants coming into the United States illegally. They will find a way. Border security is important. We should commend our Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents for their work and be grateful to them for stopping the bad guys.

The solution to the problem of illegal immigration is not here at the border. The solution is in Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador and in other countries where living conditions are so bad that people will take these kinds of risks to come to the United States.

Life in Mexico has improved to the point where more Mexicans are going back to Mexico than are coming into the United States. If daily life improved in Central America the migrants would stop coming. People do not want to leave their homes and families. They only do so if they have to. You and I do not abandon our homes because our life is really good.

We should be clear eyed. There are bad guys who cross the border from Mexico into the United Sates. We need to be vigilant. Homeland Security needs our support and the resources to protect us from the bad guys. Illegal immigration is just that — illegal. A legal, orderly process is obviously preferable to the difficulties caused by the current influx of people entering the country illegally.

Baby boomers worry that there will not be enough workers in the future to support the Social Security System. Agriculture and service industries cannot find enough Americans willing to do the jobs that entail hard physical labor and sometimes dirty work.

Thousands of young families are Coming to America (Remember the Neil Diamond song?). They are coming to do the hard and sometimes dirty work. They have the American Dream, are willing to risk their lives to get here and will do those jobs that Americans will not do.

Young families who believe in the American Dream and are willing to work hard to obtain it — this might not be a crisis after all.

Bill Reagan is director of Loaves and Fishes community center in Harlingen.