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.

EDITORIAL: Alternative aerial surveillance welcome to building a border wall

The use of smaller, tethered unmanned surveillance balloons, which can see for about 5 miles into the distance and cost considerably less to operate than the giant Aerostats that currently fly above our region, is a welcome option to building a wall on the Southwest border.

The devices — Winch Aerostat Small Platform (WASP) — were tested in the Rio Grande Valley sector by U.S. Border Patrol agents in late August and are being considered for field use because of the ease by which they can be assembled and relocated, the Associated Press reports.

U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, who sits on the powerful House Appropriations Committee, and the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security, told us last week these mini-units are a viable alternative to building a massive wall. Cuellar has long been an advocate for alternative surveillance options that are effective in dissuading illegal immigration, yet less permanent and less expensive. He has said that every mile of permanent border fencing, or wall, would cost $6.5 million; but one mile of technology costs just $1 million.

Continue reading EDITORIAL: Alternative aerial surveillance welcome to building a border wall

COMMENTARY: Trump’s border wall threatens Starr County

The plans for President Donald Trump’s border walls in Starr County are extreme and alarming.

Standing 20- to 30-feet tall, the structures would be the tallest border walls ever built in the United States and would wall off 32 miles of the Rio Grande in three sections, the longest of which would run from Roma all the way to Falcon Lake. The other two sections would be built on the southern edge of Rio Grande City and La Grulla. Each of the sections would be made of bollards — eight-inch wide steel posts with four-inch wide gaps. The footprint would include a 150-foot “enforcement zone” lining the south, or river side, of the wall where all vegetation would be cleared.

If the walls are built, these towns and the smaller communities of Salineño and Chapeño would be cut off from the river that is responsible for their very existence. Residents could lose access to the river for recreation, and the character of these historic communities would be spoiled.

Continue reading COMMENTARY: Trump’s border wall threatens Starr County

EDITORIAL: DACA youth are ‘caught in the middle’

It’s clear that President Donald Trump believes he has found his ultimate trump card in the 800,000 DACA participants who enrolled in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which he is now playing to prompt Congress to reform immigration.

On Sunday — just three days after the DACA renewal application period closed — Trump sent Congress a sweeping list of immigration-related demands including a crackdown on “sanctuary cities;” tougher asylum laws; the hiring of 10,000 more ICE agents and nearly 400 more immigration judges; funds to construct a border wall here in the Rio Grande Valley and along the Southwest; and the deportation of unaccompanied children and family units who are not in the DACA program. Otherwise, the fate of DACA, which President Barack Obama enacted in 2012, appears doomed and the DACA enrollees likely face deportation.

While some might view that as cruel and heartless, from a business perspective it makes sense coming from a president with such a business background.

Continue reading EDITORIAL: DACA youth are ‘caught in the middle’

EDITORIAL: Today is DACA renewal deadline

With President Donald Trump having announced that he is phasing out the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program — a program started under the Obama Administration that has allowed hundreds of thousands of Dreamer youth to legally stay in our country — we remind participants that today is their last chance to file renewal applications.

The Department of Homeland Security has set today’s deadline for those whose DACA and related work authorization permits expire between Sept. 5 and March 5, 2018. Those whose authorizations expire after that date may continue to legally work until their expiration date, but they may not file renewals. DHS Acting Secretary Elaine Duke, in a statement earlier this week, said nationwide there are 154,200 individuals whose DACA is set to expire during this time period. Of those, 106,000 either have renewal requests currently pending with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, or have already been adjudicated.

We remind Duke that in a Sept. 5 memo, she promised all cases will be “adjudicated on an individual basis,” which we take to mean that renewals will be seriously considered for the merit of the applicant and the skill-set they offer, as well as their educational goals and achievements, and if they have committed no crimes. We sincerely hope that application requests will not simply be rejected because this program is being ended. And we encourage the remaining 48,200 eligible applicants to come forward and do so.

Continue reading EDITORIAL: Today is DACA renewal deadline

EDITORIAL: ‘An amazing honor’ for an amazing RGV nun

She has done it again.

Sister Norma Pimentel, the Rio Grande Valley’s uber-ambassador, met last week at the Vatican with Pope Francis to help kick off a new global campaign to assist immigrants and refugees.

That the world leader of the Roman Catholic Church hand picked our Sister Norma is no coincidence. She truly is blessed and she has blessed us all with her unending humanitarian spirit and her strive to show us all how we should treat one another, regardless of religion, age, color, income and government papers.

It seems as though her and Pope Francis are becoming old friends as she has now met with the pontiff in person when he visited the United States and on TV when he personally acknowledged her work via closed circuit TV.

Continue reading EDITORIAL: ‘An amazing honor’ for an amazing RGV nun

COMMENTARY: Who is going to rebuild Texas after storms?

It has been over a month since Hurricane Harvey brought destruction and devastation to Houston and the Texas Coast, and it is time to rebuild and heal. As Houston and the Texas Coast begin to recover, many questions still need answering in the aftermath of Harvey, that according to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, may cost upwards of $180 billion. Some estimates suggest more than 200,000 homes were damaged by the storm, and that doesn’t even include the countless businesses and commercial properties needing repair.

The biggest question is: Who is going to rebuild Texas? The answer is, probably immigrants, many of whom will be undocumented.

Texas was facing a labor shortage way before Hurricane Harvey struck. The anti-immigrant sentiment at the national and state levels have been driving immigrants and hard workers back into the shadows while some just opted to leave Texas. According to the Associated General Contractors of America, a survey of its members, conducted before Hurricane Harvey, showed 58 percent struggled to fill carpentry jobs and 53 percent were having trouble finding electricians and bricklayers.

Continue reading COMMENTARY: Who is going to rebuild Texas after storms?

EDITORIAL: Environmental waiver concerns need to be decided by judiciary

As the Trump Administration continues to push for a border wall, which would bisect the Rio Grande Valley, several environmental concerns have been raised about how such a structure could, and would, affect wildlife and our local terrain.

Whether the wall would uproot animals, like the endangered species ocelot, from its natural habitat, or prevent animals from locating a water source (like the Rio Grande), or even hinder drainage issues in our very flat region, which is prone to flooding, are all valid concerns that should thoroughly be vetted.

Of course without any permanent plans to review, all of this worry is speculative. But it is necessary. Because if a border wall is built here, it will forever change our landscape. And while President Donald Trump has repeatedly said the intent of a border wall is to keep out those who do not have legal papers to be in the United States, there will be many more souls also prevented from entering if such a structure is erected — namely those with fur, multiple legs, tails and even feathers.

Continue reading EDITORIAL: Environmental waiver concerns need to be decided by judiciary