BROWNSVILLE, June 28 - On a visit to Brownsville on Saturday, U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said the United States has a “refugee problem right at our front door.”
Pelosi toured the Brownsville Border Patrol detention center on to see firsthand the conditions faced by hundreds of immigrants from Central America. She said the U.S. needs to do more to help countries like El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras because “we are all Americans.”
Pelosi received a briefing from Border Patrol with Congressmen Filemon Vela, D-Texas, and Steven Horsford, D-Nevada, Texas state Senator Eddie Lucio, Jr., and Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley Executive Director Sister Norma Pimentel. She also met with Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville.
At a news conference outside the Brownsville Event Center, Pelosi agreed with remarks by Vela that the United States has to work more closely with Central American countries such as El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.
“We have to address the three points that Congressman Vela made, and one of them is to work with our Central American neighbors, to be good neighbors. We’re all Americans in this hemisphere. North and South America – to work together to improve the situation in those countries,” Pelosi said.
Many people are calling the situation a humanitarian crisis. Pelosi said it presented an opportunity. She said it was an “opportunity to show who we are as Americans: that we do respect people for their dignity and their worth.”
Pelosi also praised the work of Sister Pimentel, who has opened two shelters, one in Brownsville and the other in McAllen, for the family units being released by Border Patrol. “Nobody knows about all of this more and better than Sister Pimentel. You know her. We think of her as an angel. She teaches us about what the actual ramifications are of public policy,” Pelosi said.
Pelosi finished her remarks by thanking Border Patrol. “We’re here to thank the Border Patrol. We think they’re doing the best they can under the circumstances. They have handled this well, but the facilities just do not meet the need. And we have to be helpful.” She said the purpose of her visit was to “see what we in Congress can do to help, to honor the traditions of our country, to respect the dignity and worth of every person, to do so in a way that is not the fastest, but the best – in the shortest period of time.”
In a question and answer session, Vela and Pelosi were asked if the surge in undocumented immigration was caused by violence in Central America or the lure of legal status in the United States. Pelosi focused on the violence, pointing out that Honduras is the murder capital of the world. And, she called the immigrants from Central America refugees.
“In Central America and especially El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, there is… tremendous violence and it is threatening to the lives, especially to young people, young girls in particular. And so that’s one of the motivations. And that’s why when we deal with this, many of these kids will be repatriated with families in the U.S., some of them maybe not, strictly speaking, fully documented, but many of them legal residents of the United States,” Pelosi said.
“So I think we have to take it on a case-by-case basis. We don’t want our good nature abused by those who would misrepresent what’s happening in the United States on the subject of immigration to affect how we deal with a refugee problem – a refugee problem somewhere else in this world, a refugee problem right at our front door. So it is, you know, case-by-case. We must have due process; we must enforce the law, but we must – and that law includes respecting of the claims of persecution or violence at home especially for juveniles.”
Pelosi said that because the federal government is dealing with unaccompanied children, and children and families, the nation has a “moral responsibility to address this in a dignified way – I wouldn’t even say bipartisan, I would say nonpartisan way. And that is what we’re striving to do.”
Vela’s remarks were similar to those he gave outside the McAllen Border Patrol detention center on Friday, when he toured the facility with Congressmen Bennie Thompson, D-Mississippi, and Rubén Hinojosa, D-Texas.
“As I begin to wrap my arms around this situation that we have seen it is clear to me that we have three crises converging all at once,” Vela said. “We have an immigration reform crisis which cries out for immigration reform because 85 percent of these children who are unaccompanied are here to be reunified with the parents who make up the 11 million people who are working in our hotels, our restaurants, our construction sites all around this country. That is why we need to push for immigration reform.”
The second crisis, Vela said, revolved around the detention and processing of thousands of undocumented immigrants that have surged across the southwest border in recent months.
“We have a logistical crisis with regard to our detention process and to our legal process and today and yesterday, visiting with the officials from the Department of Homeland Security, we have begun, hopefully, to work towards a solution to our current and most urgent crisis,” Vela said.
“Thirdly, we have a very clear crisis in Central America that is driving these unaccompanied children and family units to our country.”