Broken borders, Broken system
A multi-part series of editorials and columns regarding the issue of immigration reform.
When a surge of Central Americans descended on the Rio Grande Valley to cross into this country illegally in the summer of 2014, the cries to ‘Seal our border,’ and ‘Reform immigration’ reverberated across the country. The Monitor quickly determined that, beyond the rhetoric, many of those screaming the loudest had few specific policy recommendations to fix the problem. The Monitor editorial board began talking to law enforcement, policymakers, human rights activists, local readers and the immigrants themselves in search of answers. This series represents the culmination of at least six months of research and interviews with scores of people. It is presented on these pages in the hopes of spurring discourse about one of the most significant public policy debates to visit our country and our region in decades.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Bishop Daniel Flores spoke with The Monitor following an interfaith prayer vigil on Sept. 30 at the Basilica of Our Lady of San Juan del Valle-National Shrine. The bishop took part in the vigil along with leaders from Baptist, Methodist, Lutheran and Jewish congregations to pray for Central American refugees.
Q: What do you want from our leaders in Washington?
A: I would like for them to work together to overcome this impasse we seem to have had for several years now. They need to find a way to reform our immigration system that takes families into account and also recognizes that there are many reasons that a person may want to move and that sometimes these are life and death reasons, as we’ve been seeing here over the summer.
I visited Honduras and Guatemala and we talked with families there and so I realized much more these intense reasons. But in addition to immigration reform, there has to be a concerted effort and recognized that we have a responsibility among several governments in the Western hemisphere to address the presence of poverty, the presence of violence that are pushing people. Because if they don’t make it to the United States, they stay in Mexico and if they don’t make it to Mexico, they stay in Guatemala or wherever. People are facing intolerable situations. So what has happened is that we have had a political situation where we haven’t been able to move forward or find a consensus on the issue with regards to the immigration system that recognizes that we have millions of families here and that it is simply unjust for them to live under the fear that part of the family might be deported and part of the family might be taken because they weren’t born here. And this needs to be rectified in a way that represents humanity and the good of the family should be together.
Q: President Barack Obama has said he would delay any action about immigration reform until after the midterm election. Does that anger you?
A: I’m not a politician but I’m aware and I think our citizens should be aware. Families who are scattered and contributing members of society and one of the things we have to do is keep humanity and the persons involved most in mind and that delays have been going on now for many, many years. If it’s not one reason, it’s another. There is a courage that is needed on both political parties to recognize that certainly we can do better as a country than we have been in order to address these changing conditions that have affected so many immigrant families. They live in fear. They live in fear.
The other thing to keep in mind is the purpose of immigration reform is that we should be able to know who is here and for law enforcement to be able to distinguish who is here and who is innocent and here trying to support their families and people who are here with criminal intentions. Now there is no way to distinguish one from another because they are all living in the shadows. If people come forward and say “we’re here. We have been raising our family; paying our Social Security and so forth” because there is a criminal problem in the hemisphere and if we don’t reform the system, we won’t be able to figure out who is who in a due-process sort of way. So that’s an aspect part of the reform not always talked about.
Q: The Pope has weighed in on the surge of immigrants in South Texas. Have you spoken to the Holy Father about this?
A: No. I haven’t spoken personally to the Holy Father. I’ve spoken to several bishops around the country and the bishops conference of Guatemala, which is working on this. But we’ve all gotten the message very clearly and what the Holy Father is saying is basically what the church has been saying for a long time. Pope Benedict said the same thing. John Paul also, but the issue is becoming more and more tragic as different dynamics are going on that basically cause families to live under a prescient situation where they have basically intolerable choices before them.
Most people don’t want to leave their home country because people love the place where they were born. It would have to be extreme conditions to force someone to leave the place they love. The Holy Father is bringing attention to the fact that there is a global problem going on here that the poorer countries are not benefiting from the way the world global economy is working and that some political consensus needs to come about so that the poorer countries can sustain their own people because they would like to sustain their own people. And that’s one of the things the Holy Father is calling for especially.
For the past three months, I have been exploring in-depth the issue of immigration and its effects on the Rio Grande Valley. And I must admit that I have seen more than I’d like regarding the plight of immigrants as they journey north to cross our borders without authorization.
Riding along with the U.S. Border Patrol, speaking directly to recent arrivals, talking to the experts have all contributed to humanizing this complex and politically volatile issue for me. And it has created images in my mind that one doesn’t forget — images that change your perspective on life.
To look into the eyes of Sister Norma Pimentel and to hear her tell stories of young girls raped as they tried to cross into South Texas during this year’s immigration surge; or stories about women, preparing to be raped on their perilous journey north, tucking morning after pills in their shirts to ward off pregnancies; or stories of parents putting their 12-year-old daughters on birth control for the journey, is to get a horrifying glimpse of what some have endured to get to this country.
EDITOR’S NOTE: U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar of Laredo was the only Democrat to vote for controversial immigration reform legislation earlier this year following a surge of undocumented immigrants into South Texas. He explains during a Sept. 26 meeting with ‘The Monitor’’s editorial board as excerpted below: