Take all of the imagery you have seen of the over 14,000 Haitian migrants camped under an international bridge in the small Texas border town of Del Rio and add the complications of disease, public excrement, unbearable heat and heightened frustrations. It has led to violence that has injured Border Patrol officers.
Now close your eyes and imagine it is 100 times worse.
Because that’s what it is, said Texas Rep. Tony Gonzales, the freshman Republican who represents 42% of the border. The overwhelmed city of Del Rio had been in a rapidly deteriorating crisis situation when illegal immigrants first began surging into the community in January, but Gonzales now says the situation here is a “Category 5” and that the environment is unlike anything he has ever seen before.
“I arrived here today to pure chaos,” he said. “I’ve never seen it in this environment. There literally is no border left.”
Gonzales said Del Rio is in dire straits. “There’s no doubt there’s COVID here, there’s measles, tuberculosis, all kinds of diseases,” he said. “You’ve got kids running around in nothing but diapers. A handful of port-a-potties — my God, the stench is terrible. This is not good for the migrants. It is not good for the residents. It’s not good for wherever our government is sending them in the interior of the country.”
“My takeaway after I walked through it all,” Gonzales said, “I look over at the sector chief, and I go, ‘Man, I just feel sad.’ He goes, ‘I know. Everyone just feels beaten here.’ ”
Gonzales said he asked the chief of Border Patrol, Raul Ortiz, at a Homeland Security Committee hearing about its surge of agents to Del Rio. “Those agents are coming from somewhere,” he said. “And my worry is other sectors are going to be weakened, thus creating a national security crisis, putting us at risk in other sectors, because everyone is focusing on Del Rio.”
Ortiz agreed. He also confirmed that reports were true that migrants had assaulted Border Patrol agents — five of them, to be exact.
It is hard to imagine that this scene is playing out in America. It is also hard to imagine that our government has failed to secure the border or address this crisis with the seriousness it deserves.
Which is what makes the other part of this crisis political: Until a photo of a Border Patrol agent on horseback herding migrants back over the Rio Grande to Mexico was circulated on Twitter, Democrats, journalists and the White House had almost completely ignored or downplayed the 15,000 people who had been living in squalor under the bridge.
That story has been debunked, and to date, there are no reports that any migrant was ever “whipped” by agents.
It irks Gonzales that Border Patrol agents, who risk their lives and are coming under immense pressure right now, are having their actions and motives unfairly impugned. “They see their jobs as patriotic,” the former Navy cryptologist said. “They know they are both protecting their community as well as their country.”
The Biden administration and Washington Democrats’ blind eye to this crisis have already had an impact politically. Hints of the future may have cropped up in last year’s election, when majority-Hispanic areas rejected the Biden campaign’s rhetoric that former President Donald Trump’s handling of the border was racist.
Texans pummeled President Joe Biden in several border counties, with large numbers of Hispanic voters going for Trump. That shift away from Democrats may grow given the handling of the border. Already this summer, Republicans unexpectedly won two big mayoral elections in border towns that are overwhelmingly Hispanic and historically Democratic.
In short, while white liberals in Washington think that using words like “Latinx” matters to the Hispanic community or connects them with its values, they are ignoring a crisis that deeply affects middle-class Hispanic families. They justifiably worry about their safety and their ability to pursue prosperity. The Democrats’ oblivious lack of concern for their real-world concerns is already backfiring.
Maybe if one of them, any of them, spent a few days living in a border town, the party would understand just how dire and dangerous life there has become.
Salena Zito is a staff reporter and columnist for the Washington Examiner.