“I have just returned from two days in McAllen, TX and Reynosa, Mexico, the busiest border zone in the nation in terms of apprehensions at the border. It is also second only to Tucson as the deadliest place for
migrants to cross, with a large number dying each year in U.S. territory from dehydration and exposure. It is here in the Rio Grande Valley that over the past nine months, tens of thousands of unaccompanied children and families from Central America have voluntarily turned themselves into U.S. authorities upon crossing the U.S.-Mexico border.
“I visited migrant shelters in both countries run by religious communities who provide basic services to these vulnerable migrants: a safe place to stay, meals, used clothing, basic medical services, showers, and caring and friendly faces. I spent time with Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers and agents and other front-line border personnel who safeguard our ports of entry and the length of the border in-between. They deal with the whole range of border issues, including the recent increase in families and unaccompanied children from Central America. I was incredibly impressed with their efficient, professional and compassionate performance of their duties. Time and again they told me that our border has never been more secure than it is today.
“The border is more calm and orderly than it was in June. This is due to better coordination between U.S. agencies, the rapid reallocation of some federal resources to the Rio Grande Valley border for infrastructure and personnel, and fewer families and children crossing the border, although it is not clear whether this is a permanent or temporary lull.
“A true humanitarian crisis exists in Central America where families and children face unspeakable violence and the threat of death, of being forcibly recruited to serve in murderous gangs, or forced into sexual slavery by those same criminal groups. I heard how many of these children traveled hundreds of miles, under the most extreme conditions, often unaccompanied by a parent. As a father, it was heartbreaking to see these kids in small, crowded holding cells. They are not criminals. They are children and families in need of protection. Many certainly fit the legal definition of "refugee." And if our immigration courts determine they are refugees in need of protection, then they deserve to stay and be welcomed in our country--a country with a long and proud tradition of being a sanctuary for those fleeing violence.
“I also firmly believe that Central American governments must stop their business-as-usual approach to this crisis and stop leaving so many of their citizens unprotected, at the mercy of violent gangs. They must confront these criminal actors and ensure that they face justice. They must root out corruption by the government officials, military and police that have allowed these gangs, along with drug cartels, to operate with impunity. They also need to ensure that their children are educated and have options and opportunities for a future that is not at the mercy of gang life. Where the U.S. can aid and support such initiatives, we should do so. But the leadership must come from the governments of Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala.
“Our challenge is one of resources and the orderly implementation of our laws so that children and families can advance more smoothly through the immigration process to determine their final status. CBP is carrying out its responsibilities, but agencies next in line to respond to these cases, especially Health and Human Services (HHS) and our immigration courts, require more funds, professional personnel and temporary shelters so that children and families may advance through the legal process rather than remain stalled in the border region and overwhelming CBP capacity.
“If we in the United States face any crisis, it is a crisis of the spirit and of political will. I am angry that Congress adjourned for the August recess without providing our agencies with the resources they need to do their jobs and carry out our laws. I am also frustrated and angry by last Friday's debate in the U.S. House of Representatives that distorted and demonized the situation on the border. That debate did not address the reality I witnessed or the needs and concerns I heard expressed.
“The stories I heard from border officials, religious workers, and migrant individuals and families showed me that many of these families and children do require protection. We need to ensure that our agencies and federal workers have the funds to do their jobs and we need to care for these families and children in their moment of need. As Americans, I believe we can do no less.”
THE FOLLOWING IS A SUMMARIZED ITINERARY OF REP. MCGOVERN’S TRIP TO THE BORDER:
Sunday, August 3rd:
Arrive in McAllen, TX;
Cross the border at Hidalgo Bridge by walking over the pedestrian bridge to Reynosa, Mexico;
Visit Senda de Vida, migrant shelter run by Protestant/Evangelical Churches;
Return to USA by crossing the border by pedestrian bridge at Hidalgo Bridge;
Dinner with human rights/migrant rights advocates: Eddie Canales, executive director, South Texas Human Rights Center, Corpus Cristi, TX and Rogelio Nuñez, executive director, Casa de Proyecto Libertad, Harlingen, TX;
Monday, August 4th:
Tour, review and receive operational briefing of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Office of Field Operations (OFO) at Hidalgo Port of Entry, Hidalgo, TX;
Receive operational briefing and overview of McAllen Border Patrol Station, McAllen, TX;
Tour and review operations of processing center (CPC) and entry and departure area for apprehended individuals and families (Sally Port);
Tour part of the border and various key crossing points for illegal entry and receive operational briefing with CBP Chief Patrol Agent Kevin Oaks (border line tour);
Tour, review and receive operational briefing of new Centralized Processing Center that opened in mid-July that can house approximately 1,000 children while they await transfer to HHS (also known as the “Ursula Center” by its street name);
Sacred Heart Church, Catholic Charities facility that provides basic services to recently arriving families with young children, McAllen, TX;
Receive tour and briefing from Sister Norma Pimentel, executive director, Catholic Charities Rio Grande Valley (RGV);
Talk with volunteers and migrant families receiving services;
Depart McAllen, TX