|McALLEN, June 22 - In the past few weeks, the Rio Grande Valley has experienced a humanitarian crisis as a surge of children and families crossing over from Central America have overwhelmed our communities.
The thousands of immigrants being detained in Border Patrol facilities and makeshift shelters, in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions, has incited a critical sense of urgency to respond to this regrettable situation.
Although the federal government has stated they remain greatly concerned by the situation, they have done little to protect or inform our citizens in the Rio Grande Valley. The response of federal aid is inadequate and too narrowly focused. The Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency has coordinated a government-wide response stating that their first priority is to ensure the immigrant children are housed, fed and receive any necessary medical treatment. They are also providing millions of dollars in funding to Central American countries to help with the underlying security and economic issues that cause migration.
However, the federal government’s lack of transparency with our Valley communities — their failure to communicate, and the increasing number of security gaps that are being left open by federal agents who are overwhelmed dealing with a large number of immigrants — is resulting in serious consequences for Texas. Two weeks ago, the U.S. Border Patrol scheduled a news conference that was then canceled with no explanation. No news conference has been held or rescheduled since. And Border Patrol agents are not allowed to talk to others and do not answer questions about the situation or the immigrants being detained. Also, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson came for a quick visit on Friday but did not communicate with the public.
And while we clearly must aid and support these children and families because it is the just and compassionate thing to do, we cannot simultaneously ignore or neglect our responsibilities to our own citizens and communities. We must stop politicizing the crisis we are facing and deal with the reality of this humanitarian emergency.
Perhaps no one wants to talk about the facts, but it is the reality. People are expressing concerns about child endangerment, unsanitary conditions and the lives of immigrant children being at risk. But just as important is the concern for Texas and our families of our own public health risks from diseases as well as the local economic impact of quickly depleting resources.
A public health crisis could quickly be upon us if we do not face the reality that these immigrants often carry “invisible” diseases. Central America does not maintain a strong healthcare infrastructure as Mexico does. While there is no indication that it has occurred yet, these diseases could quickly invade our communities if we do not properly screen for them; many of which have been virtually eradicated in the United States but are recently revealing themselves in our Texas population. Diseases such as tuberculosis, measles and hepatitis are a serious potential concern for our border residents, especially our children and the elderly.
A few days ago, Gov. Rick Perry, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and House Speaker Joe Straus directed the Department of Public Safety to begin a law enforcement surge along the border area. The purpose of this operation is to have more DPS troopers focus on the security gaps that are left open by federal agents who are overwhelmed dealing with a large number of immigrants. This will ensure drug smugglers and human traffickers do not take advantage of this situation. DPS will not be conducting traffic checkpoints and will not be involved in immigration enforcement.
In the absence of adequate federal resources to protect public health and a lack of transparency from the federal government, the state must step in with additional assistance to supplement our local resources. While law enforcement is an important component of this growing crisis, we also need help to provide food, clean clothing and basic medical supplies to the immigrants of this humanitarian crisis. Although ultimately a federal responsibility, this is a humanitarian issue and one that our state and our residents along the border have to manage because the safety, security and public health of our families in the Valley is of the utmost importance.
Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa is Texas state Senator for District 20. A Democrat who resides in McAllen, Hinojosa is chair of the Senate Committee on Intergovernmental Relations.