With everything that happened at the border this summer — particularly the refugee children crossing into the Rio Grande Valley — it came as no surprise that Republicans would use this opportunity to further vilify our state’s immigrant community, and resort to lies in order to stir xenophobia among their voters. Many of whom have never visited the border region or have ever actually met the people that live there.
Because the border isn’t just a landscape in Texas. It is a vibrant region with flourishing communities and a growing economy. If investors and tourists were to judge the region based solemnly on Republican lies, a lot of valuable financial resources would be lost to the region. Resources that our border communities rely on to continue to grow.
Business leaders in the City of McAllen are arguing just that. Steve Ahlenius, head of the McAllen Chamber of Commerce, is requesting that officials in the Texas Legislature use money from the state’s marketing fund to promote the Rio Grande Valley. This, after months of continuous bad press of the region, largely in part helped created and channeled by Republicans.
“I think it would be much more helpful if the state took money out of the marketing fund to help promote the region in light of all the negative things that have been said over the last four or five months,” said Alhenius.
But even before this year, immigration and the border security were already being used by Republicans as means to stir up fear among their conservative base. In 2011, Texas Commissioner of Agriculture Todd Staples ran a report regarding combating drug trafficking in the region. Part of this biased report stated, “living and conducting business in a Texas border county is tantamount to living in a war zone.”
Fast-forward to the Republican primaries in this year’s elections: Senator Dan Patrick, using his “stop the invasion” “secure the border” rhetoric, was able to gain the Tea Party’s support and beat all other lieutenant governor Republican hopefuls, including current Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst.
Earlier this year in February, Attorney General Greg Abbott, GOP candidate for governor, compared the Rio Grande Valley to the “Third-World.” Remarks Abbott could later not defend, and has never apologized for making, even when visiting the region asking for votes.
When thousands of unaccompanied children began crossing the border this summer, instead of issuing a disaster declaration, Gov. Rick Perry sent over 1,000 National Guard troops to the border to further militarize the region and effectively solve nothing.
Yet, Perry didn’t just stop there. He continued his bad press on the region by falsely claiming terrorists were crossing the southern border into American soil. Sen. Dan Patrick had also made similar false claims in order to play into the fear of conservative voters. Recently, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst seems to have joined this chorus, stating “[p]rayer rugs have recently been found on the Texas side of the border in the brush.” These claims, of course, are not true.
To make matters even worse, domestic terrorist “militia” groups patrolling the border have threatened officials to shut down traffic in international bridges in the Valley. This would have a direct impact on the region’s economy, as millions of dollars in commerce flow from Mexico through these international ports every day.
Republicans have yet to denounce these domestic terrorist groups. In fact, some Republicans are even advocating for violence at the border as a solution to immigration.
It doesn’t seem like Republicans truly care about the border region at all.
As a Rio Grande Valley native, not only have I found Republicans’ bad press on the region to be insulting and over-hyped, but also just plain false. The Valley isn’t the “Third World” or a “war-zone.” There is no “invasion” there of any kind — especially not of terrorists. Anyone even remotely familiar with the region could tell you so. But Republicans can’t afford to tell their supporters the truth. In order to create support among conservatives, Republicans need to lie about security at the border. They rely on the fact that many of these angry, conservative voters have never been or will ever visit the border in their lives. Republicans need fear and anger to drive Tea Party voters to the voting booths in November — because it’s the only way they can actually win.
The Greater Mission Chamber of Commerce will be allocating $170,000 of their resources for a 3-year public relations campaign aimed at reassuring Winter Texans to return to the Valley during the winter season. Hopefully, Republicans find it in their conscience to allocate more money to further invest in the region and repair whatever mess they have helped created. That’s if they continue to have a conscience at all after election day.
Follow Omar on Twitter at @AraizaTX.