Cong. Dan Lipinski (D-3rd) stands among his colleagues as they are briefed by Customs and Border Patrol staffers during a fact-finding trip to the Rio Grande Valley in Texas.
By Joan Hadac
The continued flow of undocumented immigrants straining America’s southern border is “both a national crisis and humanitarian crisis we must do our best to solve,” Cong. Dan Lipinski (D-3rd) said this week.
The congressman spoke with The Reporter just hours after he returned from a fact-finding trip to the Rio Grande Valley in Texas. He was part of a 17-member delegation from the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus that made the trek.
The trip included visits to a border patrol station, a non-profit caring for unaccompanied minors, and a detention center where immigrants are processed when they are initially apprehended. Lipinski and his congressional colleagues not only spoke with Customs and Border Patrol agents and non-profit employees caring for minors, but were also able to visit with immigrants.
“My visit to the border was very informative and moving,” the congressman said. “Seeing the situation that immigrants, those caring for them, and border patrol officers are dealing with and having the opportunity to speak with people and ask questions gave me an even better understanding of what they are all facing.
“This was not only a fact-finding mission, but also an opportunity to take what we learned and further discuss what Congress can do to help address this humanitarian crisis,” Lipinski continued. “It was very valuable making this visit with a bipartisan group that is really focused on putting politics aside and working toward solutions.
Not a ‘concentration camp’
Some congressional Democrats who had visited the border weeks ago have described substandard living conditions at the detention centers — including a person drinking water from a toilet. Some, including Cong. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, have used heated rhetoric — such as the term “concentration camp”-- to describe the centers and said that people “are being kept in cages.”
Lipinski said that what he saw would not come close to fitting that description and that he would not use the word “cages” to describe the situation.
“People are kept behind chain-link fences,” he said, but it is to maintain order and provide a sense of security and protection for everyone — most notably the immigrants themselves.
“At the processing center some of the men were saying that they weren’t happy that they were...just getting cold sandwiches to eat…things like that, but nothing else significant,” he said.
The congressman expressed empathy for children caught in the middle.
“Many of the people we saw were children. One was a 10-month-old boy who had been brought [to the U.S.] by someone who wasn’t his father, and [the infant’s] parents had yet to be found. Seeing them and hearing just a little bit of some of their stories was heart-rending,” he said.
“My observation was that everyone involved is facing a difficult situation and trying to make the best of it -- not only the immigrants, but everyone caring for them, including members of the CBP,” Lipinski added. “It’s important to note that we did not see everything and I understand how critical it is that there is continual oversight to make sure that everyone is providing the best care they can for immigrants. What I am able to say is that I saw trained law enforcement officers of the CBP doing their best in a very different role than the primary one they were hired to do, which is protecting the border. We must remember that their job is national security, and we must make sure that our security is protected at the border.”
Lipinski said he and his congressional colleagues were pleased to hear gratitude from border officials aware that the Problem Solvers Caucus helped pass the $4.5 billion in emergency funding to help those caring for the immigrants.
“That was an important first step, and we heard what a difference it has already made,” the congressman said. “When we return to Washington, the caucus will continue to lead in developing commonsense ways to ease this crisis. There are no simple answers. Much of the problem lies beyond our borders. But we must look at everything that is playing a role in causing this crisis and work for solutions.
Empathizes with immigrants
A grandson of immigrants from both Poland and Ireland, Lipinski said he empathizes with immigrants’ plight.
“For years, I have said that America is a nation of immigrants, and most of the people coming here are doing so for the same reason immigrants always have: they’re simply looking for an opportunity to work and build a better life for themselves and their families. Most are not coming here to live off [American] taxpayers or be criminals.”
He said that he and his Problem Solvers colleagues — Democrats and Republicans alike — are working to find a sensible middle ground between the extremes of a polarizing political issue.
“On one hand, we can’t just have open borders and let everyone in,” Lipinski said, “and on the other, we can’t just say ‘Send them all back,’ like some [right-wingers] do. Immigration reform is a complex issue with any number of nuances that all of us need to consider carefully and thoughtfully. The trouble is, our current political debate does not seem to admit that.”
In response to a question about what Third District residents can do to address the issue, Lipinski agreed that donating to non-profits assisting immigrants at the border is a good first step — and that Catholic Charities is one of those agencies.
More information is available at catholiccharitiesusa.org/border-crisis.