It feels like a poorly written play that never ends. The actors, mostly members of Congress, perform the same roles again and again and again.
Groups fly down to the border (I’ve lost count of how many have come since January 20) and play-act well-rehearsed fear and outrage.
Republicans stand in the bushes at night, shooting grainy video of themselves while persons unknown walk down dirt roads. They visit detention centers, decrying the inhumanity and proclaiming a moral equivalency between President Biden and past-President Trump. They take a ride on a gunboat, cruising the Rio Grande and enacting an unconvincing military cosplay.
Then they go back to Washington, DC, and are immediately replaced by the next troupe of Congressional players.
Friday’s Congressional troupe was led by House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, a Republican from Louisiana who, getting ahead of the trend, declared back in June of 2019 that “Democrats have not taken [the] border crisis seriously.” With ten other Republican Representatives in tow Scalise again declared the situation a “crisis,” this time laying blame at the feet of the newly elected Democrat in the White House.
The performance reached its farcical crescendo when Scalise and company went to the Rio Grande on a beautiful, sunny morning. FOX News was with them, touting their “exclusive ride along” in “armed boats racing along the Rio Grande river.”
With mounted 50-caliber belt-fed machine guns fore and aft, the Texas Highway Patrol boats are designed to look menacing. On Friday the guns were loaded and the members of Congress donned borrowed tactical vests. They looked (they hoped) ready for war.
Gazing at the Mexican bank, the source of the alleged threat that justified the weaponry and the boats and the repeated cries of “Crisis!,” the members of Congress saw parks and playgrounds.
They saw picnic tables shaded by umbrella-sized palapas and a handful of picnickers.
They saw Coca-Cola tent awnings, and brightly colored water slides.
They saw party pavilions for rent, one with a petting zoo and a noisy peacock.
If they had stayed for the weekend they would have seen families grilling by the river, people fishing, maybe a jet ski or two.
When they saw my friends and I on a party boat, snapping their pictures and laughing at their spectacle, they waved.
The park tables and pavilions did not make it onto FOX News. FOX instead ran film of the machine guns and the wake churned up by the boats’ three 350 horsepower engines, then cut to nighttime shots of families with children walking through the woods. FOX’s editors have been doing this for years, and they know that even children can be made to look scary in the dark.
That is the threat, the so-called invasion, the “crisis” that they are trying to use to bludgeon their political opponents: thousands of families, and thousands of children, fleeing violence and poverty.
After decrying the violence that children were subject to as they trekked across Mexico on their way to the U.S. border, Representative Scalise (standing in the brush at night in the FOX clip) called on President Biden to immediately reinstate Trump’s Remain in Mexico policy. Under that policy asylum-seeking families were forced to wait in Mexico for a year or two, living in tents and preyed upon by criminals and cartels, before their asylum cases were adjudicated. Many were kidnapped, assaulted, extorted, and even murdered.
The pantomime of false concern is a key part of the political theater that Scalise and his colleagues are engaged in. The brutal real-world impacts that the policies they advocate have on real human beings – the truth – does not matter to them.
The families trudging through the brush, searching for Border Patrol agents so they can plead for asylum, are no different from the families who sit at picnic tables alongside the river, or the families who will greet the Congressmembers when they go back to their homes. They are not invaders. They are not a national security threat. They are human beings. The only difference between these families and any others is the circumstance they find themselves in. There but for the grace of God…
Gun boats and border walls, like the choreographed Congressional spectacle, are purely for show. Politicians use border communities as their backdrop, and abuse border crossing families to score political points.
It is time for this ugly farce to end.
Given the politics of the moment it is unrealistic to ask these Republicans to legislate based on the reality that they saw, and on their common humanity with all who are impacted by their legislation.
But I live here, I have a family here, so I will ask anyway.
Stop pretending the border is a war zone. Stop pretending that border walls and border militarization make communities safer and the nation more secure. Stop caricaturing people who are desperately searching for safety and prosperity as an inhuman invading horde.
When the number of families seeking asylum increases, treat that as the logistical challenge that it is, not a faux-crisis to exploit for political gain.
Imagine that the families who seek asylum were your family, that the children with river mud on their shoes were your children.
Imagine that they are deserving of care and concern, not fear and slander, because of course, like all children, they are.
Editor’s Note: The above guest column was penned by Scott Nicol, an educator and co-author of the ACLU report Death, Damage, and Failure: Past, Present, and Future Impacts of Walls on the U.S.-Mexico Border. He lives in McAllen, Texas. The column appears in The Rio Grande Guardian with the permission of the author. Nicol can be reached by email via: [email protected]
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