I am an evangelical pastor, and I cycled 1,600 miles along the U.S.-Mexico border. The only border crisis is the United States’ disgusting treatment of migrants.

A woman wearing a face mask and carrying a child leaves a bus, a man behind her in a face mask also leaves the bus with a purple bag.  A uniformed border guard stands at the bus door looking at them.

Migrants leave a border patrol bus and prepare to be received by the Val Verde Humanitarian Coalition after crossing the Rio Grande on September 22, 2021 in Del Rio, Texas. Brandon Bell / Getty Images

  • I cycled 1,600 miles along the southern border and talked to residents, immigrants and the border patrol.

  • The narrative politicians and the media have spread about a crisis for the border communities is false.

  • The only crisis at the border is how the United States treats immigrants and asylum seekers.

  • Doug Pagitt is an evangelical pastor and co-founder and CEO of Vote Common Good.

  • This is a column of opinion. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.

If you listen to certain politicians and experts on certain news broadcasts on the network, you are left with the impression that communities along the border between the United States and Mexico are a hell of crime and violence driven by malicious immigrants who cross the border and deliberately try to bypass our legal immigration. system. In this view, border communities are victims in need of rescue.

But after spending five weeks cycle more than 1,600 miles along the border with a group of faith leaders and activists where I spoke with border patrol officers, ranchers, humanitarian, faith leaders, mayors, business owners, residents, migrants and asylum seekers, I can say that this picture of the situation at the border is far from the truth. There is a crisis at the border, but it is a crisis that is putting immigrants – not US citizens – in danger.

Border communities are not as dangerous as the media and politicians say

Throughout our journey, which aimed to create a better understanding of the American immigration system and the reality along the border, I asked the same question to everyone our group met: “What do you know is true based on living here that you wish did people in the rest of the United States know? “

One of the most common answers is that border communities are not as dangerous as they are portrayed in the media. We heard this everywhere we traveled, from people with all backgrounds and political beliefs. One day we were floating along the Rio Grande River near McAllen, Texas, and landed at the exact spot where a group of governors held press conference just days before, where they aroused fear of the border. The local riverboat captain we were with pointed to the place where they were holding the press conference and said to me, “We are here every day. What they described is simply not reality.”

The border is safe unless you are an immigrant. For immigrants and asylum seekers, it is dangerous and even deadly. The only way to get in along the southern border is to cross the Rio Grande River, climb a wall or hike through a desert. We talked to immigrants, who told us about their experiences, who almost died in the desert of thirst when they tried to come to the United States. We heard from others who almost drowned with their children trying to cross the river. Immigrants are drowned by crossing the river at the same spot where the 10 governors spit out their lies. We met a woman who fell from the wall and broke her pelvis, and we were only a few feet away when a man broke his legs from a fall from the wall in El Paso.

Why do these immigrants take such risks? Because they are not left without better options.

No better options

Since 2018, the United States has extinguish almost all asylum applications for persons from Central America and later COVID-19 restrictions has frozen the asylum process for everyone else. What’s more, after all 200,000 farm worker visas offered every year far from sufficient to meet the needs of employers in the United States or migrants seeking employment.

Meanwhile, the crisis is in parts of Mexico and Central American countries intensifies. We talked to indigenous women from Guatemala who had to flee their villages because gangs recruited and threatened the lives of their children. We spoke to a man from Honduras who lived on a small island off the mainland who relied exclusively on cruise ships and who was economically devastated by the effects of the pandemic. His city had been thrown into poverty. His daughter had to undergo surgery to correct the effects of scoliosis, so he knew he had to do everything he could to get to the United States and earn enough money to pay for the surgery.

There used to be a way for people in this situation to get into the United States. But because of the “Remain in Mexico” policy – that is, a Trump-era policy continues under President Biden it requires that almost all asylum seekers await their sentence in Mexico – tens of thousands of asylum seekers live in temporary camps in Mexico. This makes them vulnerable to Mexican drug cartels. All the people we spoke to told us that not only did they have to pay to travel to the United States, but they went into debt to criminal cartels along the way. Now they are facing an even tougher economic situation than when they started. The “Stay in Mexico” policy has strengthened cartels and created more human suffering.

Much of this could be addressed with changes in American policy. The United States must drastically increase the number of farm worker visas available from 200,000 a year to at least 1 million a year. That labor shortage in the United States requires it. The Biden administration must also immediately put an end to the Trump era’s ban on asylum seekers. Once this is done, the asylum procedure must be revised; The United States should engage thousands of former judges and magistrates to serve as asylum judges and create a system capable of handling multiple cases per week. The Biden administration’s plan to raise the refugee ceiling to 125,000 is better than the disastrous 15,000 under the Trump administration, but it does not go far enough. We must further increase the number of refugees allowed to enter the country.

There is a crisis at the border. It is not a threat to Americans or border communities, but it is a desperate glove of life or death for thousands who want to escape violence and build a better life. Immigrants are not the ones to fear – they need our help.

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