BROWNSVILLE, RGV – The RGV Equal Voice Network is urging elected officials in the Rio Grande Valley to stand up to President Trump when he attacks undocumented immigrants, Mexico and DACA students.

The call from Equal Voice network weaver Christina Patiño Houle came after the president fired off a number of tweets on these issues over the weekend.

“Our takeaway from Trump’s latest tweetstorm is that we are looking for individual elected officials (in the Rio Grande Valley) to show leadership in supporting immigrant communities; to step up in their jurisdictions and adopt policies at the local and national level that show they are fighting for their constituents,” Patiño Houle said.

Asked which elected officials in the Valley are doing a particularly good job, Patiño Houle mentioned U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela of Brownsville and Hidalgo County Judge Ramon Garcia.

“We feel there are a number of elected officials that are doing that (standing up to Trump). We are in dialogue with a number of these elected officials, such as Filemon Vela and also people working in Hidalgo and Cameron County,” Patiño Houle said.

“We see in Hidalgo County, the county judge has done incredible work to get us working early on the census and that has really made a big difference in our preparedness for the census rollout in 2020. We think there is enormous potential for many more leaders to step up, not just as individuals but to come together and to support one another in making decisions that will demonstrate that the Rio Grande Valley will not stand for Trump’s divisive rhetoric.”

The RGV Equal Voice Network comprises numerous community groups that assist low-income and immigrant families in the Valley. Patiño Houle said her organization is paying close attention to the November general election.

“We have elections coming up in November and that is really a key focus for our network right now. This is a time when elected officials need to listen to us. This is a time when we are trying to talk to them and this is a time when we are really encouraging our community to express their voice,” Patiño Houle said.

“As we can see right now, votes matter and when someone is in office who does not support your community, it impacts everything. It impacts the language people use to describe you. It impacts the way other people see you and also impacts very real legislation that can change the course of your life. We are really working a lot to mobilize our communities to make sure we have representation in the Valley that represents all the concerns that are being expressed here.”

In an exclusive interview with the Rio Grande Guardian and RGV Public Radio 88 FM, Patiño Houle was asked to comment on the president’s tweets about Mexico, the caravan from Central America that is currently heading north through Mexico, and students impacted by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

On DACA, Patiño Houle said: “We think it is absolutely absurd that the White House is taking an issue, DACA, an issue about immigrant children that has been in the national conversation for nearly 20 years, and that he (Trump) is conflating it with trade policy and the larger fight for a just, humane, and comprehensive immigration reform.

“DACA or making space for immigrant children is something that has bipartisan agreement and discussion on for nearly two decades. To make these youth, these brilliant young kids, chess pieces in a trade war, or in the larger discussion on immigration reform is completely wrong.”

As for the caravan of immigrants headed north through Mexico from Central America, Patiño Houle said:

“We want to make the point that there are multiple caravans happening around immigration. To conflate them all into one is dangerous and just untrue. The specific caravan that he (Trump) is referring to is one that is coming from Central America, through Mexico. It has happened multiple times over the years annually, as a way to bring attention to this desperate need for immigration reform and the number of people who are seeking refuge in the United States. This is what this event is meant to call attention to.”

Patiño Houle said the caravan was “not storming the United States,” and was not doing anything illegal.

“They are coming here through regular immigration processes, as everyone has the right to, to seek asylum, to seek refuge in the United States. It just happens that they are doing it with a larger number of people than normally come at one time.”

Patiño Houle said President Trump was also spreading fake news in conflating the caravan with DACA.

“He made remarks in his tweets that they (Central Americans on the caravan) are coming here to take advantage of DACA, which is absolutely untrue. There is no way that the people who are coming in through the caravan to seek refuge would qualify for DACA. That is not what DACA is for. They would be ineligible.”

Patiño Houle said the White House is going to investigate trade policies then it should start investigating the trade policies that “led to turmoil” in Central America.

“America’s trade policies have caused economic devastation and led to extreme violence in that region. As a direct result of these trade policies, specifically in the Northern Triangle, people are being displaced. They are seeking refuge in the country that has benefited from the situation, that has put them in this particular circumstance. He (Trump) is really being selective in evaluating what trade policies he wants to examine and which ones he wants to ignore.

Asked if President Trump’s rhetoric and policies were making RGV Equal Voice’s work harder to do in the Valley, Patiño Houle said:

“Even when he was a candidate, Trump used rhetoric that was based on fear and hatred that was really meant to divide the United States and to divide our individual communities, to pit us against one another. We are working to counter that rhetoric and also work within our communities to make sure our members have the knowledge they need,” Patiño Houle said.

Just because something comes out of the White House does not mean it is true, the Equal Voice Network leader said.

“When the Commerce Department came out with information about the Census, where they made a statement that the Census question about citizenship had been in use actively for many years, that was completely untrue,” Patiño Houle said.

“Just because we have divisive rhetoric coming out of the White House, it does not mean that everyone is pitted against immigrant communities. That is a key component of the work that we do. We are not just supporting immigrant communities and mixed status families, we are also letting them know that others are here to support them too. That people here in the Valley value their contributions to their communities and that we want to support the things that they are putting forth in the Rio Grande Valley.”

Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above story shows Christina Patiño Houle, network weaver for RGV Equal Voice Network.