People On Both Sides Of Immigration Debate Meet At The Border To Have A Conversation
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
To the southern border now, where the pace of migrants crossing into the U.S. has slowed somewhat. Still, tens of thousands continued to come every month, more than 80,000 in July. And the debate still rages over what to do about it. James Morrison, producer for 1A Across America, recently traveled to the border with people who disagree about what to do but are trying to understand each other.
JAMES MORRISON: An Episcopalian minister, a lawyer and a rancher walk along the U.S. border with Mexico. This is not the setup for a bad joke. It's a side trip a group of volunteers took while helping at a migrant shelter in southern Texas.
RICHARD GUERRA: That's Mexico. This is the U.S. Look at them swimming down there. See that? They're enjoying themselves.
MORRISON: That's rancher Richard Guerra. He invited the volunteers to visit his family's ranch outside Roma, Texas. They're overlooking the Mexican city of Miguel Aleman. Border Patrol agents suspect this stretch of river is one of the busiest corridors for gottaways (ph), people who cross illegally but don't get caught. That's why Guerra says we need a border wall.
R GUERRA: That's missing right now. They need that. And that is because this river is so low, those people that are swimming there, they can easily walk across here - easily.
MORRISON: Father Simon Bautista has a different take. He immigrated from the Dominican Republic and recently became a U.S. citizen. He's a minister at Houston's Christ Church Cathedral. As the group heads to the Guerra ranch in a diesel pickup truck, Father Bautista says immigration has become politicized, even though the Bible clearly says we should be welcoming migrants.
SIMON BAUTISTA: I believe that we got ourselves in a very dangerous ways where conversation cannot happen and you got to be careful what you say politically speaking.
MORRISON: That's why they recently gathered here to try to get a conversation going. Richard's son, Jody, is driving us. His wife is an Episcopalian preacher like Father Bautista. His family has owned their 80,000-acre ranch within a mile of the border since the 1800s. Jody says not all migrants are good people, recalling a recent encounter on his ranch.
JODY GUERRA: These were individuals all clad in black wearing large packs. You know, the leader of that pack had a weapon. The guy in the back had a weapon. So, you know, it seemed to be a pretty obvious drug operation at that point.
MORRISON: Bautista's parishioners Michael and Melissa Jacobs are also here to volunteer. Michael says he feels an obligation to be there for Central American migrants when they arrive. His Jewish grandparents immigrated to the U.S.
MICHAEL JACOBS: Their first exposure is the welcoming arms by the volunteers. And I can imagine what it would be like for my grandparents to come over and be welcomed.
MORRISON: Melissa says her conservative friends told her not to come, saying migrants are taking advantage of U.S. asylum laws. But Melissa says she felt a moral obligation.
MELISSA JACOBS: If it offends politics, so be it. We're there to take care of our souls. And if politics is not in line, politics is the problem, not the church.
MORRISON: At the ranch, they meet up with Ricardo Moreno. He's U.S. Border Patrol agent in charge for the Rio Grande City Station.
RICARDO MORENO: You know, we average about 1,600 apprehensions here a day.
MORRISON: Moreno also says the Border Patrol often rescues migrants from this remote scrubland. He says the most humane thing to do would be to stop them from making the dangerous trek north in the first place. He acknowledges the Border Patrol has been overwhelmed at times. Michael, a lawyer, is surprised to hear how bad it's been.
MORENO: So our capacity at Rio Grande City Station depending on square footage, number of toilets, number of sinks, is 119 people - 119 people - at any given day. For example, today, we've got 900 people detained there.
MICHAEL: You have 900 people detained in a space that was designed for 119.
MORENO: And it's unfortunate.
MORRISON: Since this trip, those numbers have changed. The Trump administration says progress has been made and fewer migrants are stuck in Border Patrol stations. Still, the administration says we're facing an ongoing humanitarian crisis. After a few hours on the border, the group agrees the trip has been a worthy endeavor. But none of them have changed their mind.
For NPR News, I'm James Morrison from 1A Across America.
KELLY: And 1A Across America is a collaboration with six public radio stations funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.