What Nancy Mace is Leaving out of Her Border Narrative

This past week, South Carolina Congresswoman Nancy Mace, went down to the Southern border with Texas Senator Ted Cruz. Though she did acknowledge there was an ongoing humanitarian crisis, she went on to state that the border is a “a super spreader … a hotbed for drug smuggling, trafficking, illegal immigration, and untreated Covid-19 cases.” There is an element of truth in what Nance is saying. However, as someone who has spent extensive time in the border cities of Reynosa and Matamoros, Mexico working with asylum seekers and a board member of a border ministry (Practice Mercy), I can tell that the situation is much more complicated than the simplistic, fearful narratives being put forward by political leaders who see the border and immigration as a way to drive up fear for their own political agendas.

The reason we are in this situation to begin with was that in 2019 President Trump enacted the Migration Protection Protocols (Remain in Mexico), which forced asylum seekers to stay in Mexico until their asylum hearings were heard. Though there was lip service to Mexico helping out these individuals, what it actually led to was people living in squalor and danger in makeshift asylum camps. It was a denial of basic international human rights. Though some changes have been implemented under the Biden Administration, the Title 42 policy, which restricts legal border crossings and asylum processing at ports of entry due to COVID-19, has remained in place.

This restriction in legally seeking asylum has caused more illegal crossings as people are not allowed to do things “the right way”. The only way many can now get across is to pay the cartels to cross the river. If they choose not to pay the cartel, they can be killed. In an indirect way, our restrictive border policies are directly benefitting some of the worse criminal elements in our hemisphere.

Another talking point is that the border is not secure. This is another false narrative as the current militarization of the border is unprecedented in our history. I have a friend that I worked with in the camp that tried to cross 13 times but could never actually successfully get past Border Patrol. We do not need more border security. We need a system that works.

Perhaps most troubling in Nance’s narrative is the COVID-19 comment. Yes, it is true that COVID numbers have risen in the asylum camps. That is what happens when you force people to live in horrific, crowded, and unsanitary conditions. However, this rhetoric plays into the narratives of people like Henry McMaster and Texas Governor, Greg Abbott, who want to blame migrants for the COVID-19 spikes. It is an absurd argument, but these politicians know their base will love to use migrants as scapegoats. First of all, even if every person crossing had COVID-19, that would not begin to account for the COVID numbers in places like here in Nance’s districts. The reality is that the COVID-19 numbers are lower in some of these border counties than other parts of Texas. Also, those migrants who are allowed to stay in the U.S. have to go through mandatory COVID testing, so in some ways they are less likely to spread the COVID than many U.S. citizens or residents.

To many these asylum seekers are just numbers, or worse, people to fear. What I have found is that the overwhelming majority of these migrants are just desperate individuals fleeing situations we cannot even begin to imagine. They just want to raise their children in a place where they can be relatively safe. Their resilience and faith still amaze me. As a Christian, they are Jesus embodied in the stranger. There are issues at the border, but it is not because the border is open or not militarized enough. It is because we have shut our doors to legal entry for many of these asylum seekers, which has caused the humanitarian crisis and given more power to criminal elements in Mexico. We have to be better than this as a nation. That should be at the center of Nance’s message.

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Will McCorkle

Will McCorkle

I am an education professor in South Carolina with an emphasis in immigrant rights and peace education