Skip to main content

Shift U.S. priorities closer to home

By Rudy Ruiz
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1317 GMT (2117 HKT)
Texas Gov. Rick Perry announced Monday, July 21, that he will deploy up to <a href='http://www.cnn.com/2014/07/21/politics/perry-national-guard-border/index.html?hpt=po_t1'>1,000 National Guard troops</a> to the Texas-Mexico border, where tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors from Central America have crossed into the United States this year. Perry also wants President Obama and Congress to hire an additional 3,000 border patrol agents to eventually replace the temporary guard forces. "I will not stand idly by," Perry said. "The price of inaction is too high." Texas Gov. Rick Perry announced Monday, July 21, that he will deploy up to 1,000 National Guard troops to the Texas-Mexico border, where tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors from Central America have crossed into the United States this year. Perry also wants President Obama and Congress to hire an additional 3,000 border patrol agents to eventually replace the temporary guard forces. "I will not stand idly by," Perry said. "The price of inaction is too high."
HIDE CAPTION
Crisis on the border
Crisis on the border
Crisis on the border
Crisis on the border
Crisis on the border
Crisis on the border
Crisis on the border
Crisis on the border
Crisis on the border
Crisis on the border
Crisis on the border
Crisis on the border
Crisis on the border
Crisis on the border
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Rudy Ruiz: Border crisis shows urgent need for U.S. to focus more on the Americas
  • Children need humanitarian aid, and their nations need more U.S. aid, he says
  • We must invest more resources in helping Latin America fix broken nations, he says
  • Ruiz: Only one Latin American nation is among the top 20 recipients of U.S. aid

Editor's note: Border native Rudy Ruiz is the author of "Seven for the Revolution" (Milagros Press), recent winner of four 2014 International Latino Book Awards, including first place for best popular fiction. He is CEO of Interlex, an advocacy marketing agency based in San Antonio.

(CNN) -- I grew up on the border, at the site of today's humanitarian crisis involving tens of thousands of immigrant children seeking asylum. Even though I was born in Texas' Rio Grande Valley, my family and I lived on the Mexican side of the river for seven years of my childhood. There I saw poverty firsthand, right around the corner from our house, in the streets, by the bridge, in the countryside.

Poverty was everywhere. It looked like hungry children in dirty diapers living in dirt floor huts with no shoes, no clothes, no running water, no education, no health care and often no idea from where the next meal would come. It was the stench of running sewage, of dirty laundry, of mangy dogs, of rotting food. And later, as the drug trade and related violence increased, it wasn't just poverty that hung in the air, it became fear.

I narrowly dodged being at a restaurant one evening in Matamoros, Mexico, when a gunbattle broke out. My best friend hit the floor so hard he woke up with bruises all over his knees and elbows, blood splattered on his sneakers.

Rudy Ruiz
Rudy Ruiz

Another night, walking near my grandparents' home, I bumped into a man bathed in blood. He'd just been shot and was running for his life. The area was the site of the infamous Santa Elena Ranch killings. The environment had changed. And that was more than 20 years ago. It's only gotten worse, not just on the border but throughout Mexico and Central America, which is why our nation must shift its foreign policy priorities closer to home.

Fortunately, for me, I was born into a middle-class family. Our life was filled with tensions most Americans know too well: saving our home from foreclosure, keeping the lights on and worrying whether my dad's small business would survive tough times. But -- unlike the children flooding into our country -- we felt safe from hunger, from violence, from fear of losing our lives at any moment. Like most Americans, we found comfort and complacency in that degree of safety.

And so like most Americans, we did not question the priority our nation continuously placed on the Middle East. September 11, 2001, only fueled that focus because we felt the impact of terrorism bred in the Middle East on our own soil.

40 immigrants deported back to Honduras
National Guard to be deployed to border

But shouldn't today's humanitarian crisis along the border be a wake-up call to the fact that we must finally place a higher priority on Latin America? The results of the unbridled violence and poverty south of our border have long spilled onto our soil. And, after the failure of governments throughout the hemisphere to turn the tide, the effects are evident in this flood of desperate humanity seeking refuge and opportunity.

As someone who grew up there, I can assure you that more border security is not the answer. This solution -- often prioritized by political leaders and epitomized by Texas Gov. Rick Perry's decision to deploy the National Guard -- is nothing but macho swagger that oversimplifies the problem and will only succeed in turning our border region into more of a war zone.

We must remember that places such as the Rio Grande Valley are still a part of America. The beleaguered people who live there have a right to enjoy the same freedom and safety the rest of America holds dear. And no matter how much border security exists, it will not stop this deluge of humanity, but it will tell our children and those watching around the world that America is a heartless nation.

If the Statue of Liberty is the symbol of immigrant America from another era, what statue should be erected in the Rio Grande Valley? A solider pointing a weapon southward through a towering barbed wire fence? Is that the new image we wish to form of America for generations to come?

To the contrary, we must stop dealing only with symptoms and tackle the real problems. The constant tide of northward migration from Latin America is a symptom of deeper problems, as is our nation's paralysis in dealing with all of the undocumented immigrants who have already crossed our borders.

Our foreign policy priorities must shift, and we must invest more talent and resources in collaborating with Latin American governments to fix their broken countries, economies and societies.

President Barack Obama's meeting with Central American leaders this week must be the beginning of a deeper commitment to solving our shared challenges. A quick glance at the U.S. Agency for International Development's list of the top 20 nations benefiting from American foreign aid includes only one Latin American nation, Colombia coming at 15th. Four out of the top seven recipient nations are in the Middle East.

Absent from the list of the top 20 are any of the nations most directly involved in this recent wave of immigrants: Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador and Mexico. While the crises in Ukraine and Gaza are reminders that we cannot ignore the rest of the world, it is also clear we must do more in our own backyard so that so many of our neighbors don't feel compelled to flee their homes. The problem begins, and must be resolved, in these immigrants' nations of origin.

But we must also deal with the situation we have at home. Not only should we be humane and generous in caring for these young immigrants; we must include them within our approach to comprehensive immigration reform.

We must act fast. And we must act now.

We must embrace a more inclusive vision of the Americas as our larger shared home because we are so highly interdependent, as evidenced by this mounting crisis. And we must make this hemispheric home a better place to live for all, everywhere, so that people are more likely to build their lives closer to where they were born, nearer to their families and connected to their cultures. If they had that chance, I'm sure they'd take it. And we'd all be better off as Americans, and Americanos.

Read CNNOpinion's new Flipboard magazine.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook.com/CNNOpinion.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
October 30, 2014 -- Updated 1539 GMT (2339 HKT)
Mike Downey says the Giants and the Royals both lived through long title droughts. What teams are waiting for a win?
October 30, 2014 -- Updated 1832 GMT (0232 HKT)
Mel Robbins says if a man wants to talk to a woman on the street, he should follow 3 basic rules.
October 29, 2014 -- Updated 2103 GMT (0503 HKT)
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say more terrorism plots are disrupted by families than by NSA surveillance.
October 29, 2014 -- Updated 2125 GMT (0525 HKT)
Time magazine has clearly kicked up a hornet's nest with its downright insulting cover headlined "Rotten Apples," says Donna Brazile.
October 29, 2014 -- Updated 2055 GMT (0455 HKT)
Leroy Chiao says the failure of the launch is painful but won't stop the trend toward commercializing space.
October 29, 2014 -- Updated 1145 GMT (1945 HKT)
Timothy Stanley: Though Jeb Bush has something to offer, another Bush-Clinton race would be a step backward.
October 28, 2014 -- Updated 1237 GMT (2037 HKT)
Errol Louis says forced to choose between narrow political advantage and the public good, the governors showed they are willing to take the easy way out over Ebola.
October 27, 2014 -- Updated 1803 GMT (0203 HKT)
Eric Liu says with our family and friends and neighbors, each one of us must decide what kind of civilization we expect in the United States. It's our responsibility to set tone and standards, with our laws and norms
October 27, 2014 -- Updated 1145 GMT (1945 HKT)
Sally Kohn says the UNC report highlights how some colleges exploit student athletes while offering little in return
October 26, 2014 -- Updated 1904 GMT (0304 HKT)
Terrorists don't represent Islam, but Muslims must step up efforts to counter some of the bigotry within the world of Islam, says Fareed Zakaria
October 24, 2014 -- Updated 1302 GMT (2102 HKT)
Scott Yates says extending Daylight Saving Time could save energy, reduce heart attacks and get you more sleep
October 27, 2014 -- Updated 0032 GMT (0832 HKT)
Reza Aslan says the interplay between beliefs and actions is a lot more complicated than critics of Islam portray
October 27, 2014 -- Updated 1119 GMT (1919 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says control of the Senate will be decided by a few close contests
October 24, 2014 -- Updated 1212 GMT (2012 HKT)
The response of some U.S. institutions that should know better to Ebola has been anything but inspiring, writes Idris Ayodeji Bello.
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1312 GMT (2112 HKT)
Sigrid Fry-Revere says the National Organ Transplant Act has caused more Americans to die waiting for an organ than died in both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq
ADVERTISEMENT