What do you think of when you hear about El Paso, Texas? I was born and raised there, so when I think of El Paso, I think of home. I think of the early mornings when my family and I would cross the border to go to church with my abuelitos at La Primera Bautista in Juarez.
I think of places like El Super, a well known and loved supermarket that has an array of Latin American groceries along with a full-scale eatery where you can get all your Latin food favorites from tacos de asada to agua fresca.
I think of Chicos Tacos, the beloved local restaurant famous for their “tacos” (they are really flautas, if we are getting technical) drenched in spicy tomato broth and covered in a cheese so fake you can almost taste the plastic (it is still delicious, I promise). I could go on for days about the culturally rich city I grew up in and will always love.
But people who have not grown up in El Paso have a very different perspective of my city. I remember when I moved to Virginia Beach to get my bachelor’s degree. The first time I was asked about where I was from, I responded proudly, “El Paso, Texas.” At first, the person’s response caught me off guard, “Oh, so basically Mexico,” they said. Although that response was surprising, it became commonplace throughout my time away from home.
I realized through comments like saying El Paso is essentially a part of Mexico, that to people watching from far away, it is easy to make assumptions about it. Granted, this response came from a bunch of ignorant undergrads that were probably studying either theology or theater and had no actual comprehension of national security. But this pattern of ignorance goes far beyond the bounds of my small alma mater.
People make assumptions and draw conclusions all day about what happens on the border, but until they experience it firsthand, they have no clue about what really goes on there. This is exactly what is happening right now, unfortunately, at some of the highest levels of leadership in Washington. Some of the country’s top elected officials are debating whether the border crisis is to be called a “crisis” while local police, Border Patrol, and the U.S. Army base in El Paso are being forced to deal with the influx of migrants trying to take advantage of the current administration’s suddenly lax approach to border security.
Unfortunately, El Paso area law enforcement, including U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), cannot always count on having local leadership on their side when it comes to acting in the best interest of their departments or the citizens they are supposed to serve. Instead of addressing the detrimental effects that the border crisis has on El Paso locals, Mayor Oscar Leeser encourages local citizens to be welcoming to people entering the country illegally.
Similarly, El Paso Congresswoman Veronica Escobar has belittled the crisis by falsely comparing it to the surge of unaccompanied minors that took place in the Rio Grande Valley in 2014. She insisted that the border crisis in El Paso is nonexistent and instead focused on denouncing the length of time that unaccompanied minors are being kept in detention centers in the city. Ironically, Escobar deplores the length of minors’ stay in detention facilities without even addressing the reason they must be kept there.
In El Paso, it is also striking to note the extent to which the military has been forced to get involved, with massive migrant facilities being built in Fort Bliss. Currently, the Fort Bliss migrant facility for children houses 5,000 unaccompanied minors and has no plans of closing any time soon.
Advocacy groups are calling for the release of the children being held at these facilities, but what happens once they are released? Not only are law enforcement agencies being overwhelmed with the influx of continued border crossings by migrants lacking authorization, but they also must worry about the ones already in their custody. When it comes to releasing migrant children, the authorities better be extra careful. Otherwise, these minors could easily fall victim to the modern slavery that is human trafficking.
So, what happens next? Vice President Kamala Harris visited Guatemala to encourage citizens to stay in their own country. She assured them, along with Guatemalan politicians, that the United States would work alongside them and other Latin American countries to bring hope back to their homelands. But what does hope mean and more importantly, how much is hope going to cost the American taxpayer?
Further, what are Texas cities and towns all along the border, like El Paso and Del Rio, supposed to do in the meantime while this hope is being sent? Are they to continue to shovel out valuable time and resources that are meant for Americans until the surge calms down, if it ever does? And how long is the surge supposed to last before local and federal legislatures decide to stop dragging their feet and address an abused and misaligned immigration system that should have been overhauled a long time ago? These are all serious questions, and I am sad to say we have been met with very few answers.