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
December 25, 2014 -- Updated 0633 GMT (1433 HKT)
Danny Cevallos says the legislature didn't have to get involved in regulating how people greet each other
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2312 GMT (0712 HKT)
Marc Harrold suggests a way to move forward after the deaths of NYPD officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos.
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 1336 GMT (2136 HKT)
Simon Moya-Smith says Mah-hi-vist Goodblanket, who was killed by law enforcement officers, deserves justice.
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 1914 GMT (0314 HKT)
Val Lauder says that for 1,700 years, people have been debating when, and how, to celebrate Christmas
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2027 GMT (0427 HKT)
Raphael Sperry says architects should change their ethics code to ban involvement in designing torture chambers
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 0335 GMT (1135 HKT)
Paul Callan says Sony is right to call for blocking the tweeting of private emails stolen by hackers
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 1257 GMT (2057 HKT)
As Christmas arrives, eyes turn naturally toward Bethlehem. But have we got our history of Christmas right? Jay Parini explores.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 0429 GMT (1229 HKT)
The late Joe Cocker somehow found himself among the rock 'n' roll aristocracy who showed up in Woodstock to help administer a collective blessing upon a generation.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2115 GMT (0515 HKT)
History may not judge Obama kindly on Syria or even Iraq. But for a lame duck president, he seems to have quacking left to do, says Aaron Miller.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 1811 GMT (0211 HKT)
Terrorism and WMD -- it's easy to understand why these consistently make the headlines. But small arms can be devastating too, says Rachel Stohl.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 1808 GMT (0208 HKT)
Ever since "Bridge-gate" threatened to derail Chris Christie's chances for 2016, Jeb Bush has been hinting he might run. Julian Zelizer looks at why he could win.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 1853 GMT (0253 HKT)
New York's decision to ban hydraulic fracturing was more about politics than good environmental policy, argues Jeremy Carl.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 2019 GMT (0419 HKT)
On perhaps this year's most compelling drama, the credits have yet to roll. But we still need to learn some cyber lessons to protect America, suggest John McCain.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 2239 GMT (0639 HKT)
Conservatives know easing the trade embargo with Cuba is good for America. They should just admit it, says Fareed Zakaria.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 0112 GMT (0912 HKT)
We're a world away from Pakistan in geography, but not in sentiment, writes Donna Brazile.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 1709 GMT (0109 HKT)
How about a world where we have murderers but no murders? The police still chase down criminals who commit murder, we have trials and justice is handed out...but no one dies.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 2345 GMT (0745 HKT)
The U.S. must respond to North Korea's alleged hacking of Sony, says Christian Whiton. Failing to do so will only embolden it.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 2134 GMT (0534 HKT)
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1951 GMT (0351 HKT)
Jeff Yang says the film industry's surrender will have lasting implications.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 2113 GMT (0513 HKT)
Newt Gingrich: No one should underestimate the historic importance of the collapse of American defenses in the Sony Pictures attack.
December 10, 2014 -- Updated 1255 GMT (2055 HKT)
Dean Obeidallah asks how the genuine Stephen Colbert will do, compared to "Stephen Colbert"
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1734 GMT (0134 HKT)
Some GOP politicians want drug tests for welfare recipients; Eric Liu says bailed-out execs should get equal treatment
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1342 GMT (2142 HKT)
Louis Perez: Obama introduced a long-absent element of lucidity into U.S. policy on Cuba.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 1740 GMT (0140 HKT)
The slaughter of more than 130 children by the Pakistani Taliban may prove as pivotal to Pakistan's security policy as the 9/11 attacks were for the U.S., says Peter Bergen.
ADVERTISEMENT