Between 1910-1920, vigilantes and Texas Rangers deployed by Texas governors dispossessed, murdered, and lynched hundreds of Mexican-Americans and Mexicans living in the Rio Grande Valley and other parts of the borderlands with complete impunity. Historians have just recently begun shedding light on these abuses perpetrated just three generations ago.
More recent stories of abuse of power, sustained through local traditions of oral history, remain fresher within resident’s memories. “Los Rinches de Tejas,” a local corrido, for example, tells the story of the time the Texas Rangers were deployed to brutally quell the organizing efforts behind the Melon Strikes in Starr County in 1967. Documentaries like “The Ballad of Esequiel Hernandez,” which tells the story of a U.S. citizen livestock herder who in 1997 was murdered by marine forces because he was confused for a drug smuggler, also serve to remind us of what appears to be a tendency at the border to shoot first and ask questions later.
Now, President Trump and Governor Abbott want to deploy at least 1,400 armed national guardsmen to border communities like the Rio Grande Valley, a majority Latinx community. Some have lamented this decision, suggesting instead that the money and resources be used to hire another type of armed agents: border patrol agents.
We’re told that it’s for the safety of our communities, yet, border communities experience some of the lowest crime incidents. We’re told we should fear. But who do we fear? The people risking everything for an opportunity at a better life or the armed agencies that have historically viewed us with suspicion?
A Manufactured Crisis
The border is under siege, but not by undocumented immigrants or refugees.
President Donald Trump is doing with the border what he’s been doing from the onset of his presidential campaign: he’s lying. I say this not just because (as several media outlets have reported) border crossings are at record lows, but more importantly, because of the inaccurate and untrue persistence with which he is attempting to depict the border as a war zone and who he’s casting as the threat.
What prompted Trump’s sudden order to deploy the national guard? His Easter tweets indicate it has something to do with the caravan of Central American migrants currently making their way through Mexico to the U.S.
But who are these people? If previous caravans and recent border crossing data and trends should be taken as any indication, the vast majority of these people are refugees and asylum-seekers escaping extreme violence and poverty. In the case of Mexico and many Central American countries, where the U.S. has historically backed brutal dictatorships, they have been people at the losing end of U.S. foreign policy and economic interests in the area.
This isn’t just the observation of pro-immigrant advocates. Study after study sustain what grassroots organizers, immigration advocacy, and many border residents already know, which is that the vast majority of those currently migrating to the U.S. are simply people seeking a better life. Despite the stressors and pressures associated with their status, neither immigrants nor refugees are any more predisposed than native-born residents towards crime. In fact, reports indicate that immigrant communities actually commit less crime.
Trump and other elected officials can afford to play a game of optics and politics, but we, the residents, can’t. Too much is at stake. In casting immigrants and refugees as something to be afraid of, President Trump creates a boogeyman of sorts. In doing so, he does not just distort our view of our friends, neighbors, and vulnerable peoples in need of compassion and support; he also distracts us from the real threats affecting the border.
The border faces serious issues. These, however, do not stem from immigrants and refugees but rather from the long-term consequences of historically neglectful and discriminatory practices.
In modern-day Rio Grande Valley, there are still entire neighborhoods (commonly referred to as colonias) that do not have potable water, electricity, or access to basic sewer and drainage services. In 2015, at least 369,500 people lived in colonias throughout the Starr, Hidalgo, Cameron, Maverick, and El Paso counties.
According to a 2017 report by the Center for Public Policy Priorities, an estimated 30 percent of the Rio Grande Valley’s children are also food insecure, “meaning they lack consistent access to enough food for a healthy diet.”
Additionally, because most school funding stems from property taxes and Valley counties exhibit the highest poverty rates in the state, this also means that Valley schools and teachers receive less financial support. For students, this may mean having a high number of teachers with minimal support and teaching experience.
In the healthcare arena, the uninsured rate in the Rio Grande Valley is twice that of the entire state. To its credit, the Valley opened its first Level II Trauma center just last month. Though certainly a victory for residents, the center, which is located in Harlingen, is the only of its kind for a stretch of territory covering 4,872 square miles. For people in cities like La Grulla that can mean a 45-minute drive to the nearest hospital and an hour and a half drive to obtain Level II Trauma care.
Borders are the site of a variety of unique phenomenon. Unfortunately, among them lies a governmental tendency to impose measures and practices that border communities are frequently not consulted about or in a majority agreement with.
Take for example the border wall. With the support of organizations across the state, including La Union del Pueblo Unido (LUPE) and the Sierra Club locally, more than 30 cities and counties across border states have passed resolutions opposing construction of a border wall. Nevertheless, the voices of those living at the border don’t seem to matter to President Trump.
A similar phenomenon appears at play with the deployment of the national guard. This time with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott.
Hours after President Trump issued his proclamation requesting the deployment of 6,000 National Guard personnel to “guard” the border, Texas Governor Abbott stated that he welcomed the support. Various residents and city mayors voiced their opposition, describing the move as wasteful and empty rhetoric. Even so, just a few days after the first guardsmen were already being spotted.
Organizations along the Rio Grande Valley categorically renounced the decision, demanding Governor Abbott listen to the voices of those living at the border, stop any additional deployment, and remove current guardsmen. We launched a petition at thebordersaysno.com.
When will it stop?
It is not the first time a president or governor mass deploys national guardsmen (or other agencies) to our region. The border, however, is not a war zone. Why then are we being occupied? And when will the trend or push towards militarization stop?
Border residents, in particular, should ask themselves: what will become of our homes, our neighbors, our communities? What will become of our region’s unique cultural and historical traditions if border militarization does not come to an end?
In the name of “border security,” elected officials have confiscated private land, built 21-foot fences that stretch across our communities, saturated our streets and communities with border patrol and State Troopers. Border patrol agents have shot and killed people on both sides of the border. In the name of border security, they’ve gotten away with it too.
In the name of border security, at least 436 migrant deaths occurred at the border in 2016 and 2017. Between 2012 and 2015, at least 2,178 complaints were filed against border patrol agents in the Rio Grande Valley; in 96 percent of the cases in which an outcome was actually reported the result was “no action” against the officer or agent accused of misconduct.
And now they want to send more the national guard, more armed agents.
Border security? For whom? Enough is enough.