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SAN JUAN, RGV – In amongst questions from reporters at a news conference held at La Unión del Pueblo Entero on Saturday, a Rio Grande Valley resident wanted to make a point to U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

“I have a house in Mexico, Reynosa. It is safe there. They talk about it being violent. I go there every other day. I take my kids, I take my family. I want to let you know that,” the resident said.

After a visit to the Basilica in San Juan and Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley’s Humanitarian Respite Center in McAllen, and a town hall meeting with LUPE members, U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez and Bishop of Brownsville Daniel Flores, Pelosi seemed to have got the message.

“This is a community with a border running through it,” Pelosi said.

The discussion at the town hall centered around immigration and fear in the community caused by a change in apprehension policy by the Trump administration. Pelosi said she strongly opposed immigrant families being broken up. “We have a right to secure our border but to do so not in a way that undermines our Hispanic community, does not undermine the economy of the region, does not appreciate the cultural exchanges and the family relationships across those borders,” Pelosi said, at the news conference.

The way the Department of Homeland Security is operating when it comes to undocumented immigrants has changed under the Trump administration, Pelosi argued.

“What we have seen in the last 50 days, and certainly since the inauguration is a change. Before, we had a practice of prosecutorial discretion. If the Department of Homeland Security or any of the entities in government saw somebody that had seriously broken the law, then that would be a subject for investigation and deportation,” Pelosi said.

“Since the last 50 days, we have seen change. What they (DHS) are saying is violation of status is sufficient reason to deport someone. We don’t buy that. They are saying 11 million people could be subject to deportation. Don’t they understand what that would do to undermine our society, our country, our economy. We have to make sure the public knows what is at stake by them saying they want to deport people because of a violation of status. That has never been the standard for deportation.”

Pelosi was standing next to immigrant children at the news conference. “We stand here with the children. This is about the children and that the children have confidence in their status in America and the security of their parents and their families in our country. They (the Republican majority in Congress) are all family values-oriented. We want them to honor family values for our immigrant families and to stop this talk about massive deportations,” she said.

The Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley’s Humanitarian Respite Center, which is located next to Sacred Heart Church in McAllen, provides clothing and a hot meal to undocumented immigrants that have just arrived from Central America. Pelosi said she was impressed by the “kindness and love” provided by Sister Norma Pimentel and her volunteers at the center. “That faith spurs (the immigrants) on,” Pelosi said. “It inspired me… it reinforces a message of hope. I cannot say enough for Bishop Flores and Sister Norma.”

In his remarks, Bishop Flores said Congress should talk to undocumented immigrants while crafting new immigration laws. “It is so important to hear the voices of the people who live and who work here in the Rio Grande Valley,” Flores said. “Immigrants are not often criminals but are often fleeing criminals.”

Pelosi agreed. “Refugees from our own hemisphere have a right to come here from a place they would be in danger,” she said, at the news conference.

Pelosi said she agreed with the comments made to her by evangelical leaders, who told her that the American Refugee Resettlement Program is the crown jewel of American humanitarianism. “Three million people in recent years have come through our refugee resettlement program and none of them has done harm to the United States of America,” Pelosi said.

Ann Cass, executive director of Proyecto Azteca, told Pelosi that children in the Valley are not going to school due to fear of deportation. Pelosi said she has heard of a similar situation in New York City. Cass said she had also heard about Central Americans seeking asylum being sent back to Mexico once they arrive at the Hidalgo-Reynosa International Bridge. She said once they go back to Reynosa they are picked up by cartels and never heard of again.

“Immigrants from Central America go to the bridge and ask for asylum, which is their right. They have been told at the bridge, ten miles away from here, the Hidalgo-Reynosa bridge, go back,” Cass said. “Who is giving them the order to violate their constitutional rights? Who is giving those agents down at the bridge the authority to tell people to go back?”

Pelosi said the type of incidents described by Cass are “disruptive to our society and who we are as a people.” Pelosi said: “What I am concerned about is that even with the best intention, which I do not attribute to them (Customs and Border Protection), we do not have uniformity and consistency in implementation of their rules. They say we don’t do that. Well, somebody is doing it.”

Pelosi added: “Putting aside faith, just thinking about the pragmatic consequences to our children, with them being afraid to go to school, and the dramatic impact that has on them.” She said such trauma can last in immigrant children for a long time to come. “This is about saving America. We respect the people not because they are American but because we are American,” Pelosi said.

Asked later about Cass’s point that Central American asylum seekers were being sent back to Mexico at the Hidalgo bridge, Congressman Gonzalez said: “I heard about that for the first time this past week. I would like to confirm this is happening. I am a lawyer – show me proof and I will take action. If it is, it should be a huge diplomatic concern for Central American countries to take up in Washington, because those are citizens who do not belong in Mexico.”

On the question of comprehensive immigration reform, Pelosi said: “We believe it is essential to have a pathway to citizenship. This is not a country where we say, okay, we will let you come here for work but we are not going to let you become citizens. That undermines America. As we honor our citizens, we honor our country.”

Sam Freeman, a retired political science professor at UT-Pan American, said Pelosi had the opportunity to pass comprehensive immigration reform in 2009 and 2010, when Democrats controlled by House, Senate, and the White House.

“What the hell did she do to get it? She did not do a damn thing. Why wasn’t it passed through Congress? There was a Democratic House and a Democratic Senate. The Senate was very close to being a filibuster-proof Senate. President Obama never really tried and she never really tried. If she had done her job as speaker of the House we might have had immigration reform. She might have helped the public build a fire under Obama that would have caused him to do more than lip-service to it,” Freeman told the Rio Grande Guardian.

In response to a question from Freeman, Pelosi countered that the Democrats did not have 60 votes in the Senate in 2009 and 2010. She praised the Congressional Hispanic Caucus for passing the DREAM Act in the House but said it only got 59 votes in the Senate. “We did not have 60 votes. Take your question to the Republicans,” Pelosi told Freeman.

Asked afterwards what he thought about Pelosi’s visit, local immigration attorney Carlos Garcia said: “I am glad that Leader Pelosi and Congressman Gonzalez are organizing these events so they can really hear from the community. I think what the Bishop said is really important. People talk about immigration reform but they don’t talk to the immigrant communities. These forums are really helpful.”

Garcia said it is obvious to everyone living on the border how much of a contribution undocumented immigrants make to society and the economy.

“We have all kinds of people who understand the benefits of the immigrant community. Our business community, everybody. Everybody is impacted by immigration in South Texas. It is good for our representatives to see it affects everyone here. All kinds of religions, all kinds of economic levels.”