At Southern border, our broken immigration system on display
Washington, August 8, 2019
REP. ABIGAIL SPANBERGER, CULPEPER STAR-EXPONENT
Last month, I joined a group of House Democrats and Republicans on a visit to our southern border. I’d like to share a few thoughts about this experience.
The tragedy of our broken immigration system was on display. We saw desperate families, terrible hardships, and exhausted officers. Throughout the visit, we spoke directly with migrants and law enforcement.
At the Donna facility, a processing center for migrant families, I spoke with mothers and their young children. Among them were women from El Salvador and Honduras who had just arrived days prior. They had a clear weariness in their eyes and voices. Even as they recounted their tragedy, there were little boys rolling on the mats wrestling, which added a bit of play to an otherwise heartbreaking circumstance.
We also traveled to the Hidalgo Port of Entry and saw the lines of cars waiting to enter the United States or traveling back to Mexico. In addition to receiving the hundreds of day and temporary visitors who cross the border to work, shop, or visit family, agents are also the first point of contact for many foreign nationals making asylum claims.
At Hidalgo, I spoke with women from Cuba who had recently arrived at Hidalgo and were hoping to be reunited with family members in the United States. One young woman began to cry when she told me that she hadn’t seen her mother in four years.
We then traveled to an area along the Rio Grande river, where migrants frequently arrive. We walked through the dense brush on a path of matted grasses and saw belongings along the way.
As we walked out of the brush, we saw a sign that said in Spanish “follow the arrows to receive help.” We asked a Border Patrol agent about the signs, and he explained that they had placed the signs there hoping to prevent tragedy. He then recounted a recent story that will stick with me forever.
A woman and her three young children had recently died while walking through the thick grasses, instead of along the dusty road where it is easier to encounter Border Patrol agents. His agents had to carry each of their bodies from the brush, and the weight of that experience on him was clear.
The tragedy of it all was evident—after a treacherous journey through Central America, a woman and her children died here in the place where they were seeking safety and a better life—and the agents who found them too late to set up the signs to keep it from happening again.
At our visits to two additional facilities, we met unaccompanied minors who had come across the border because their parents sent them on perilous journeys wanting to keep them safe from local violence in their home countries. We met families waiting to be processed to Health and Human Services holding facilities. We saw people living in overcrowded detention centers that were never meant to hold the number of people coming through their doors.
I spoke with little girls who squealed with delight when one told me her sister’s name is Abigail, and another proudly showed off her "Frozen" T-shirt, while their fathers looked on exhausted and weary.
Too frequently, in Congress or in nationwide politics at large, we are reactive. We look for easy, short-term solutions, and we try to put a Band-Aid on these massive, structural problems. That mode of operation needs to change now, because our current system is not working.
Instead, we must fully recognize how current U.S. immigration policies are driving behaviors and conditions on the ground. And we need to rigorously define each piece of the problem from a policy perspective—not through a hyper-partisan lens.
Through our conversations last month with law enforcement, children and families, and border security and human rights experts, we focused on identifying the scattered pieces of our immigration and security puzzle.
Without a doubt, these issues are incredibly complex and spur emotional responses, but they require a high amount of listening from lawmakers—not grandstanding or fear-mongering for the sake of scoring political points.
We need to believe that we can achieve progress in fixing our broken immigration system, prioritizing smart border security investments, cracking down on those who are trafficking and smuggling, and relieving the ongoing humanitarian crisis at our southern border.
We owe it to the American people, and we owe it to every person who believes in the promise of the United States so much that they are willing to risk everything to find it.