What you don’t hear from Steve King are healthcare solutions. You don’t hear him talking about wage stagnation or how the working class is getting left behind in this economy. One thing he does talk a lot about is immigration and blaming those coming to our country for existing problems already here. Recently, he even released a video showing him drinking out of a toilet-fountain in a detention facility at the border to “prove” that conditions for immigrants, asylum seekers, and refugees are acceptable (they’re not). Now, I’m setting the record straight.
To see for myself and to understand more about what’s happening at the border, I went to El Paso, Texas and spent some time with Congresswoman Veronica Escobar, who represents the district — the largest binational community in the Western Hemisphere. She took me on a tour and shared with me the reality of what’s happening at the border: the pain and suffering of those coming to our country, the impact of our immigration policy on our economy, and bluntly, how funding a border wall doesn’t better secure our nation — and only appeases the concerns of those hoping to keep certain people out.
Experts agree the border wall is both an expensive and ineffective way to limit illegal border crossings and stop the flow of illegal drugs. Most undocumented people are here after overstaying a visa and most drugs arrive in legal ports of entry through cars. A border wall fails to address either of these facts.
The first thing she showed me was the wall. About a third of the U.S.-Mexico border has some sort of border (whether it’s the infamous tall steel slats or fencing) today. To date, the Trump Administration has replaced 60 miles of existing miles of barriers with new fencing. The other border is the natural border, the Rio Grande river, which proves as its own deadly deterrent to immigrants. If you’re coming from Mexico, once you get more than halfway across the river, you are in the United States. It’s at that moment, before you even get to the wall, that sits yards inland past the “no-man’s land” that the immigration process begins.
Congresswoman Escobar told me that the majority of migrants coming through El Paso are from Central America, especially from the Northern Triangle of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, where men, women, and children are fleeing deadly gangs, violence, and poverty. The journey is long, difficult, and deadly. Some escaping their home countries make the journey on a train known as ‘The Beast,’ clinging for dear life in hopes of a better future in America. This train is widely known for its danger: many people lose limbs or their lives falling off.
The migrants arriving in El Paso, who survive the journey and cross the Rio Grande, can surrender to agents on U.S. soil and assert their legal right to seek asylum. The Border Patrol will first bring you into a temporary holding facility that serves as a processing center, and where earlier this year migrants were forced to sleep on rocks.
Congresswoman Escobar showed me one of the detention centers, which was under construction to expand. At these facilities, children have been torn from the arms of their mothers, locked up in cages, and forced to sleep on concrete floors with tin foil blankets. They lack toothbrushes and soap. At least seven children have died in these facilities.
So, how does what’s happening at the border affect us over 1,000 miles away in Iowa? The truth is that it gets to the core of who we are and who we want to be. Here in Iowa, we are a welcoming place. No better example of that is when the late Republican Governor Robert Ray offered Tai Dam political refugees from Vietnam, Laos, Burma, Cambodia, and Thailand a home in Iowa. He famously said to Iowans who were skeptical of this decision: “Don’t tell me of your concerns for these people when you have a chance to save their lives. Show me. Don’t tell me how Christian you are. Show me.” As a result, today more Tai Dam live in Iowa than in any other place outside of Asia.
Today, we have that same opportunity. To show that we’ll live up to our founding and welcome the oppressed, the downtrodden, the desperate, and the hopeful from around the world.
I’ll never forget after our first town hall last year in Storm Lake, a woman came up to me and shared that she just became an American citizen. I was honored and humbled when she said her first vote would be for me. More importantly, she told me that it took her 17 years and $17,000 to become a citizen.
In that same vein, in the fall of 2017, I was talking to some employees at a local grain elevator in the district. They needed 39 workers to help with the harvest but they didn’t get one American citizen that applied for the job. In Sioux City and in Eagle Grove, two new pork plants opened earlier this year. But there wasn’t enough labor in the area to support the plants and they needed to bring in an immigrant workforce. It took more than a year before the one in Sioux City was able to start a second shift.
“Our immigration system should match who we are: it should reflect our values and our founding, and enable our country to reach its greatest economic heights.” — J.D. Scholten
Our immigration system should match who we are: it should reflect our values and our founding, and enable our country to reach its greatest economic heights. Immigrants don’t hold us back; they empower us. To start, we should do a few things:
- Ensure our immigration policies are humane: treat those who come to our country with dignity and respect, reunite families that have been separated, reform our broken asylum system, rescind the travel bans, and remove the fear of deportation for Dreamers and those who benefit from TPS.
- Confront those — like Steve King — who use xenophobia and racism to sow seeds of fear and hatred amongst neighbors and turn us against each other.
- Modernize our visa system to reduce the backlog and ensure a year-round work visa for places like Iowa that rely on year-round workers to support our economy.
- Bolster security and technology at legal points of entry.
- Ensure transparency and accountability from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Since the creation of DHS in 2003, the federal government has spent about $324 billion on immigration enforcement. In 2013, the Migration Policy Institute released a report that the U.S. spent 24 percent more on federal immigration enforcement than collective spending for the FBI, DEA, Secret Service, and all other federal criminal law enforcement agencies combined in fiscal year 2012.
“Immigrants don’t hold us back; they empower us.” — J.D. Scholten
Immigration isn’t a zero-sum game. We can have secure borders while maintaining our American values as a safe haven for those in need, those in fear, those seeking a better life.
Matthew 25:35–36 reads: “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”