WASHINGTON, D.C. – More than a dozen Rio Grande Valley leaders, led by Sister Norma Pimentel, visited Washington, D.C. on Thursday to discuss the so-called crisis on the border.
In a meeting with House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and six other members of the Congress, the Valley delegation announced they firmly oppose any lessening of due process rights for unaccompanied children from Central America and Gov. Rick Perry’s recent deployment of National Guard troops in South Texas.
“This humanitarian crisis is an opportunity to share our American values; let us not forget that these migrants are human beings, they are children of God that must be treated with respect and compassion,” said Sister Pimentel, executive director of RGV Catholic Charities, the group that has set up refugee centers in McAllen and Brownsville.
Three Valley mayors were in the delegation – Tony Martinez of Brownsville, Richard Garcia of Edinburg and Leopoldo ‘Polo’ Palacios of Pharr. Other Valley leaders on the trip included state Rep. Armando “Mando” Martinez, Cameron County Commissioner David Garza, and Edinburg City Manager Ramiro Garza. Representing Hidalgo County Judge Ramon Garcia were Yolanda Chapa and Bobby Villarreal. The president of the Jesuit Conference, the Rev. Thomas H. Smolich, and immigration attorneys Jaime Diez, Lisa Brodyaga, and Rene Ramirez were also present.
They met with Pelosi and her Democratic House colleagues Rubén Hinojosa of Mercedes, Filemon Vela of Brownsville, Beto O’Rourke of El Paso, Joaquin Castro of San Antonio, Marc Veasey of Fort Worth, and Xavier Becerra of Los Angeles.
Pelosi said the meeting with Valley leaders was important because everyone needs to work together in the best interest of the children. Last month, Pelosi joined Pimentel, Hinojosa and Vela on a visit to Brownsville to tour a Border Patrol facility where unaccompanied children were detained. She met there with local immigrant advocacy groups. She praised the Valley leaders.
“We met earlier this morning with the President of Honduras and the President of Guatemala and a representative for the President of El Salvador to see their description of the crisis. When we were in Brownsville and when we were at the border, we had one recurring theme. And that was: this is a crisis that presents an opportunity,” Pelosi said.
“We have to deal with it, honoring our values in the most humanitarian way. We have to deal with it, honoring the due process of the children. We have to deal with it in a way that protects our border and again has consideration for how – if these children are returned, that it is done, again, in the best interest of the children – the determination of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops.”
The group expressed support for President Obama’s request of $3.7 billion to boost humanitarian aid for the refugees from Central America. Obama’s emergency supplemental funding request to Congress includes:
• Deterrence, including increased detainment and removal of adults with children and increased immigration court capacity to speed cases;
• Enforcement, including enhanced interdiction and prosecution of criminal networks, increased surveillance, and expanded collaborative law enforcement task force efforts;
• Foreign Cooperation, including improved repatriation and reintegration, stepped-up public information campaigns, and efforts to address the root causes of migration;
• Capacity, including increased detainment, care, and transportation of unaccompanied children;
Here are the comments of those who attended the meeting:
State Rep. Armando ‘Mando’ Martinez, D-Weslaco:
“Deploying the National Guard is the wrong approach and sends the wrong message; we have a vibrant border community that is safe. Those dollars could be better spent in the community for education, healthcare and transportation.”
Pharr Mayor Leopoldo ‘Polo’ Palacios:
“My father came to the U.S. from Mexico in 1913 as a 13 year old boy, scared and penniless as a refugee from the Mexican revolution. He crossed the Rio Grande River along with his younger brothers and sisters, seven in all, seeking safety and refuge from the violence occurring in Mexico at the time. He and his brothers and sisters settled in Pharr, Texas just a few miles from the river they crossed. During the rest of their lives he and his brothers and sisters gave more than they took. His story is not unlike what is happening today. Yes it is 100 years later and many things have changed but what cannot change are the basic principles which have made our country the greatest country in the world today.
“Senator John Cornyn and Representative Henry Cuellar are both good friends of mine and I respect them greatly. However, I in good conscience cannot support the immigration bill they have put forth. That would be the ultimate act of hypocrisy and contrary to what I have worked for all of my life. That 13 year old refugee from Mexico was accepted by our country and allowed to live in peace, start a life, obtain his citizenship, and contribute his fair share to his new country.”
Cameron County Commissioner David Garza:
“The intense rhetoric surrounding the migration of these children to the U.S. is hurting potential economic opportunities that could benefit South Texas. The fact is that these children do not pose a security threat to our border region. We certainly do not need the National Guard deployed to the Rio Grande Valley.”
Brownsville Mayor Tony Martinez:
“Deploying the National Guard along the Texas-Mexico Border could have a chilling effect on economic development projects. Dealing with the influx of unaccompanied children requires increased resources to fairly adjudicate these children’s cases and ensure they have legal representation.”
The Rev. Thomas H. Smolich, president of the Jesuit Conference:
“The United States has always supported the rights and needs of refugees around the world. But when it comes to refugees on our own border, we seem to be forgetting what we stand for. I hope we as a nation can respond to the children and families fleeing harm and arriving at our border with care, respect, and due process. Our Christian values, our American values insist we do so.”
Edinburg Mayor Richard Garcia:
“The $12 million per month that it is estimated to cost to deploy the National Guard along the Texas border could be much better spent on economic development programs or to provide education to our children. Crime statistics along the border are relatively low compared to other parts of the state. Deploying the National Guard to turn away immigrants is not in line with our American values.”
Hidalgo County Chief Administrator Yolanda Chapa:
“This is not a security crisis, and South Texas residents do not feel threatened by these unaccompanied children entering the U.S. Our border community has compassionately responded to helping these children who are fleeing violence in their home countries.”
Congressman Filemon Vela:
“As today’s meeting made clear, many South Texans do not support the HUMANE Act’s expedited removal process or deployment of the National Guard to the Rio Grande Valley,” said Congressman Vela. “A better approach is to: (1) provide the needed resources to address cartel activity in Central America, Mexico and across the U.S.; (2) support Customs and Border Protection by providing the necessary funding to increase the number of agents and support personnel; and (3) provide funding to the immigration court system to allow for speedier determinations pursuant to current law while protecting due process requirements of the U.S. Constitution.”
Congressman Rubén Hinojosa:
“Leaders from across the Rio Grande Valley, who are dealing directly with the unaccompanied children and their families, know firsthand what is most needed on the border and they all agree that sending National Guard troops to the border is not a solution to this humanitarian issue. The Rio Grande Valley is not suffering from public health issues or violence from the immigrants so there is no need to militarize the border. Doing so would be an affront to the good qualities our region has to offer.
“Earlier today I met with the Presidents of the countries of Central America to discuss solutions to the wave of refugees coming from their countries to the United States. There is incredible poverty, violence and threats from gangs and drug cartels. This is the very root of the problem that needs to be addressed. We need federal funding to help them and funding to assist our communities who are bearing the financial brunt of caring for these immigrants in need.”