EL PASO, Texas – As tens of thousands of children leave death and despair in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador and make the thousand-mile voyage to present themselves for refuge and asylum at the Texas-Mexico border, we can choose a number of ways to respond.
We can calmly do as the law and our conscience mandate and accept these children in their most desperate hour of need. In El Paso, we’ve developed a model in which the Border Patrol, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and volunteers organized by Annunciation House, a local shelter, coordinate efforts and resources to ensure a secure, safe and humane process for Central American refugees. This can be the Texas model as we work within the 2008 trafficking victims law to ensure that children are not returned to those who would harm, exploit or kill them.
We can choose to look at this crisis in the larger context of immigration policy. When we crack down on enforcement without aligning immigration laws with the reality of labor demand and family unification, we create incentives for migrants who are already here to stay in this country instead of risking trips to see their children and spend time in their home communities. When security and stability in Central America continue to deteriorate to the point that Honduras becomes the deadliest country in the world, it’s only natural that migrant families there would seek to bring their children out of harm’s way and join them in the U.S. Passing a bipartisan immigration reform proposal in the U.S. House, with Homeland Security Chairman Michael McCaul’s border security bill serving as a central piece of it, would do much to improve the situation.
We can also acknowledge our culpability in creating this problem in Central America and then work to solve it. Whether it’s the fact that the U.S. is the world’s largest illegal drug market and that the drugs consumed here are trafficked through Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, or the onerous interdiction and militarization policies we push on these countries, we have a hand in their instability and insecurity. Over the decades, we’ve knocked off democratic governments, funded brutal military juntas and turned a blind eye to staggering human rights violations in Central America. And now that it has reached a level of desperation and crisis — to the point that children by the tens of thousands are fleeing to seek safety and shelter elsewhere — can we really be surprised? We have a chance to make this right and work with our neighbors in the hemisphere to find a regional solution, since we are all invested in the outcome. Asylum claims in neighboring Mexico, Belize and Costa Rica are up over 700 percent in the last five years.
And at a minimum, we can look at the facts and see that even during this humanitarian crisis, the border has never been safer. Total crossing apprehensions are down about 70 percent percent in the last 15 years. El Paso continues to be the safest large city not just in Texas but in the country, and we’re spending more today on border security — $18 billion a year — than on all other federal law enforcement combined. And remember, the kids presenting themselves at our borders seek out Border Patrol; they do not try to evade them.
Or we can do what Gov. Rick Perry has done: sensationalize a humanitarian problem and prey on the base fears and anxieties in the national electorate with a completely irrational proposal to send the National Guard to the border.
Governor, the men and women of the Border Patrol do an excellent job of keeping this country and our state safe. And there are 10,000 more of them now than when you first took office. If we need to allocate more of them to the Rio Grande Valley from other sectors, so be it. But I can’t believe that these kids — kids who’ve suffered so much already — scare you enough to do something this irrational. I know you and Texas can do better.
Beto O’Rourke is a U.S. Representative for the District 29th Congressional District in Texas. A Democrat, he resides in El Paso, Texas.