What's really happening on the border

Photo by Marjorie Kamys Cotera

The city of McAllen — grappling with the humanitarian effort brought about by the influx of thousands of immigrant families and unaccompanied youth into the country this year — has found itself at the center of an extraordinary immigration situation.

Our city is working with the U.S. Border Patrol, Hidalgo County, nongovernmental organizations like Catholic Charities and the Salvation Army, and dozens of volunteers to provide modest humanitarian relief to these immigrants, most of whom are from Central America.

After an arduous journey, many (but not all) of these migrants are detained and processed by the Border Patrol. “Family units,” mostly women with young children, are dropped off at the McAllen bus station, a modern facility that serves 3 million people a year. From that point, they are essentially guests in our city — passengers waiting to be reunited with their families in other parts of our country.

If they have to wait more than a few hours, or if they need a respite from what has been a harrowing journey, they are taken a few blocks away to Sacred Heart Catholic Church, where they can find clothing, rest areas, showers, hot meals and, if needed, basic medical attention. Virtually all of these family units leave our city within 24 hours. The families are provided with clothing, diapers, food and drink for their bus trip north.

The humanitarian aspect of the situation has drawn local, state, national and international media attention to McAllen. Coverage has been mostly fair, but not every story has been completely accurate. Because of some misinformation circulating about the “crisis,” I’d like to clarify a few points:

  1. McAllen and the Rio Grande Valley are not facing a “health crisis.” Health professionals on the ground dealing with the families have not detected or reported, at this point, any serious health conditions. That does not mean we should not remain vigilant. We strongly urge a more robust health screening at the federal facilities.
  2. McAllen and the Rio Grande Valley are not facing an “emergency.” Our city of 140,000 — just named by Forbes as the “most recovered” city in the U.S. since the recession — is secure and going about its daily business of serving residents. Life in McAllen is business as usual.
  3. We are working closely with other local governments, law enforcement agencies, community groups and charity partners to make sure we can continue to aid the humanitarian effort. I am proud of these efforts and the contributions of many of our citizen volunteers and donors.
  4. There has been no uptick in criminal activity in our city, which is one of the safest of its size in Texas. Because of the influx of families and unaccompanied children, there is a threat of increased illegal crossing by people with criminal intent. But federal and state governments must deal with that threat, and we understand that they are. 

Despite that fact that the city did not cause, anticipate or set aside funds for this operation, I have no plans to declare an emergency in McAllen. This situation presents many challenges, but it is not an “emergency” in the ordinary sense of that word, and to call it that would be unfair to our citizens. It would also further perpetuate negative stereotypes and images of border areas.

We expect to be reimbursed for our efforts, and we will push to secure a sustained funding source from the federal government or state of Texas to continue our work. It is not fair for our taxpayers or our generous citizens to shoulder this burden when state and national leaders should be responsible for addressing immigration and border security issues.

In the meantime, our city and our Rio Grande Valley will continue to treat these temporary visitors the same as we treat all of our visitors — with dignity and humanity, with open hearts and a helping hand.

Jim Darling

Mayor of McAllen