Questions from My Kids on the Border Crisis

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping. To this day, especially in times of disaster, I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers — so many caring people in this world.” – Fred Rodgers

This little nugget of wisdom from Mr. Rodgers circulates every time there is a tragic event and parents, myself included, struggle to comfort kids and answer questions with no good answers.

My girls have been following the news reports of children separated from their parents at the border. Naturally, they have lots of good questions that are hard to answer. Heck, even we adults have a hard time understanding what led to the current crisis and how we can solve it. If you are looking for a 60 second summary of what led to the current crisis at the border, check out my post from last week, How to Help Immigrant Children Separated from Their Parents at the Border.

One story that really struck a cord with my girls was an 89 year old lady named Pamela Taylor. Miss Pamela (as I am sure her neighbors call her) lives in a one-story brick home, surrounded by bright pink bougainvillea bushes and mesquite trees on a two-acre plot of land on the Texas border near Brownsville that she and her husband bought seven decades ago.

If the border wall President Trump imagines is ever actually built, Miss Pamela’s tidy little house will be on the “Mexican” side of the border, with the remainder of her property on the “U.S.” side. The last time U.S. officials built a barrier on the border with Mexico, they left an opening on the small, dusty road leading to Miss Pamela’s house on the banks of the Rio Grande. Presumably, the fence will become part of the border wall, sealing Miss Pamela’s little house off from the U.S.

Do a Google search on Miss Pamela (NOTE: she is NOT the same Pamela Taylor who made racist comments about Michelle Obama) and you will find she is frequently interviewed on border issues. She has what my husband likes to call lots of “hot sports opinions.” She voted for Trump and has seen lots bad things go down from the vantage point of her back porch. Drug trafficking and the frequent the cat-and-mouse chase between the border patrol and undocumented immigrants, to name a few.

One would think the logical thing for Miss Pamela to do is sell and move on. Nope. Instead, she locks her doors and leaves food and water out daily “for anyone who needs it.”

My girls had two great questions after hearing Miss Pamela’s story:

  1. People actually live on the U.S.-Mexico border? What’s going to happen to them if Trump’s border wall is built?
  2. Is Miss Pamela going to get in trouble for helping undocumented immigrants by giving them food and water?

How sad is that second question?

Who owns the land on the U.S.-Mexico border and what is going to happen to them and their land if Trump’s border wall is built?

Who owns the land along the nearly 2,000-mile border stretching from the Pacific Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico?

According to the Government Accountability Office, federal and tribal lands make up 632 miles, or approximately 33%, and the remaining 66% are private and state-owned land, most of which is located in Texas. Over half of the border sits in Texas, with almost 5,000 parcels of land sitting within 500 feet of the border.

Who are these private landowners? They are a diverse bunch. Some are like Miss Pamela, modest homes that happen to be on the border. Others are ranch owners who can trace their ownership back to an original land grant from Spain in the 1700s. Still others are uber-weathly landowners like Howard G. Buffet, the oldest son of billionaire Warren Buffet, who purchased land along the Arizona-Mexico border to study agricultural practices that could be used to address famine in Africa.

The proposed path for the border wall will cut through ranches, forcing ranchers to lose land to the government or to the other side of the border. It will also cut through houses because the wall would have to be built father in from the Rio Grande due to a treaty that prevents construction near the river.

So what’s going to happen to the landowners? Two words–eminent domain.

The process of eminent domain gives the federal government the ability to seize private property for “public purposes” as long as “just compensation” is provided to the owners. What if the owner doesn’t want to sell? The federal government can use condemnation to acquire the property. It’s in the Constitution, the Fifth Amendment, look it up.

For those private landowners wealthy enough to pursue litigation, we will probably see decades of court cases, lawsuits that could cost millions of dollars to settle.

For the Miss Pamelas of the border, we will see sad stories of people forced to accept when the government gives them and move on.

Can you get in trouble for helping undocumented immigrants by giving them food and water?

Migrant deaths in the desert along the U.S.-Mexico border are all too common.  In the last two decades, more than 7,000 thousand sets of human remains have been recovered along the U.S.-Mexico border region.

Lots of people, like Miss Pamela, provide food and water to undocumented immigrants. Is this illegal?

Possibly.

It’s a felony to “harbor” undocumented immigrants. What it means to “harbor” is open to interpretation.

An Arizona humanitarian aid worker was recently arrested and charged with a felony for harboring undocumented immigrants. Scott Warren, who is also an instructor with Arizona State University, is a volunteer with the group No More Deaths, which provides food and water to undocumented immigrants.

According to the criminal complaint, Border Patrol agents were conducting surveillance on a building known as the “Barn” when they saw to people matching the description of lost undocumented immigrants entering the “Barn.” The men told the Border Patrol agents they received the address of the “Barn” as a place to receive food and water and Mr. Warren met them there and gave them food and water for three days.

What about Miss Pamela? Weighing in her favor, she doesn’t invite any undocumented immigrants to her house, she doesn’t allow them to stay in her house, and she leaves the food and water for the benefit of the Border Patrol agents as well. I think she will be okay (at least from arrest).

What kinds of questions have your kids had about the current crisis along the U.S.-Mexico border? Leave a comment or send me an e-mail.

Copyright © 2018 by Siobhán Fitzpatrick Kratovil. All Rights Reserved.

 

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