McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi led a congressional delegation of 12 lawmakers on a tour of South Texas on Sunday to view migrant facilities and better understand border geography and economics.
It was the final leg for most of the group after three days in three different Central American countries, where they tried to understand “the root causes of what drives people to the United States,” Pelosi said.
Professing a message of love and tolerance and repeating that America is a nation built by immigrants, Pelosi vowed that the delegation would take back all they have learned to other lawmakers in Washington, D.C. Pelosi said the lawmakers would utilize their knowledge to help push for comprehensive immigration reform in Congress and to help improve the way asylum-seekers are treated under the Trump Administration.
Read a Border Report story announcing the delegation tour here.
Read a previous Border Report story on the Humanitarian Respite Center here.
“We come here to make sure we are honoring the dignity of our migrants coming into our country. That the conditions meet their needs but also respect their dignity and honor the values of America. When we don’t respect the dignity of all of those migrants we lessen ourselves,” Pelosi said during a news conference after touring the Humanitarian Respite Center, which is run by Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley in downtown McAllen.
Private prayer vigil at historic mission
Pelosi and the bipartisan congressional group began their day with a private prayer vigil inside the historic La Lomita Chapel in Mission, Texas. Built in 1899 on the banks of the Rio Grande, this tiny chapel was barely big enough to hold the congressional group and its entourage.
Media were not allowed at the private prayer vigil in the chapel, which up until recently had been slated to be behind construction of a border wall. U.S. Customs and Border Protection last week announced a construction contract to build 11 miles of border wall in this area, but Congress has exempted La Lomita, along with a few other nearby areas, like Santa Ana Wildlife Refuge, from being behind the wall.
Waiting for the lawmakers in his wheelchair outside the chapel was 70-year-old Reynaldo Anzalduas, who shook Pelosi’s hands and spoke with a number of lawmakers to ask them to help spare his family’s 70 acres of land next to the Rio Grande from a planned border wall.
“They want to take away my land, it’s 70 acres and its been in our family for decades,” Anzaludas, who was joined by his cousin Jose Alfredo Gavazos, told Border Report after meeting Pelosi on Sunday.
Protesting against a border wall
On the other side of a chain link fence, Naydia Alvarez and her neighbor Yvette Gaytan, who both live in nearby Starr County, held up signs that read, “No border wall.” They protested the visit by Pelosi and other congressional leaders, whom the women blame for appropriating funds to build a wall on the Southwest border of the United States. Construction plans currently put the wall through both of their backyard properties, which are located in a rural area between Rio Grande City and Roma, Texas, they told Border Report.
“We’re hoping Ms. Pelosi will see that we don’t want this wall in Starr County. I could lose my home over this,” Alvarez said. “Nobody stepped on my lands, her lands, my grandparents’ lands and yet they are planning a wall.”
Treating migrants humanely ‘with dignity’
Pelosi on Sunday called out President Donald Trump and his administration for their overall treatment of asylum-seekers. From a metering policy, which limits the numbers and who can cross international bridges to claim asylum, to the length of confinement in CBP processing detention facilities, to the overall treatment of migrants in detention centers, Pelosi promised that when Congress is back from summer recess she would urge her colleagues to take up policy measures to improve the conditions for migrants in the Southwest border.
“You are loved and you are welcome and you are our future,” Pelosi, after touring the CBP processing center, told migrants staying at the Humanitarian Respite Center.
Pelosi has visited the Humanitarian Respite Center several times since a surge of migrants into South Texas began in 2014. But this is the first time she has visited this reincarnation of the center, which has relocated five times and is now situated in a former nightclub directly across the street from the downtown McAllen bus station where Immigration Customs Enforcement agents drop off migrants.
You are loved and you are welcome and you are our future.”House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to immigrants at the Humanitarian Respite Center in McAllen, Texas
“Every one of these immigrants who comes with the hope and determination and optimism to make the future better for their families, well those are American traits and these immigrants make America more America,” Pelosi said.
Sending more help to Central America
The congressional delegation visited South Texas after a whirlwind trip in which they traveled to Guatemala on Thursday, El Salvador on Friday and Honduras on Saturday, meeting with government and community leaders, nonprofits and faith-based groups.
Pelosi said the surge of migrants on the Southwest border is a reflection of Central America’s economic crisis that stems from corruption and government mismanagement that has resulted in high unemployment, gangs and violence there.
She and other lawmakers stressed the need for the United States to help these Central American countries build their economic base so that they can restore jobs and improve conditions.
Nevertheless, the Trump Administration has vowed to cut economic aid to Central America by $1.1 billion, and has threatened to withhold an additional $540 million that Congress wants to add to Central America in fiscal 2020, said U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas), who sits on the House Appropriations Committee and is vice chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security.
“The governance problem, not being able to conquer corruption, affects security in the region and stability, for both of our countries” Pelosi said.
“When we talk about root causes we should be talking about the American demand for labor and the American demand for narcotics,” U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela (D-Texas), told Border Report outside the respite center Sunday.
“We often think about conditions of poverty and violence in Central America, but there are other root causes, too, that we need to focus on and that is our demand for labor in the United States,” Vela said. “People demand workers. Just look at what happened with the immigration raids in Mississippi. Those people were all doing something that human beings do, is just work.”
Vela added that if all these issues — border security, economics, political corruption and drugs — aren’t examined, then “it makes the time we are able to solve this very distant in the future.”
Sandra Sanchez can be reached at SSanchez@BorderReport.com.