Skip to main content

Shift U.S. priorities closer to home

By Rudy Ruiz
updated 9:17 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
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
updated 4:06 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Timothy Stanley says Lewinsky is shamelessly playing the victim in her affair with Bill Clinton, humiliating Hillary Clinton again and aiding her critics
updated 10:14 AM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Imagine being rescued from modern slavery, only to be charged with a crime, writes John Sutter
updated 12:00 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Tidal flooding used to be a relatively rare occurrence along the East Coast. Not anymore, write Melanie Fitzpatrick and Erika Spanger-Siegfried.
updated 7:35 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Carol Costello says activists, writers, politicians have begun discussing their abortions. But will that new approach make a difference on an old battleground?
updated 9:12 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
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
updated 2:51 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Crystal Wright says racist remarks like those made by black Republican actress Stacey Dash do nothing to get blacks to join the GOP
updated 6:07 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Mel Robbins says by telling her story, Monica Lewinsky offers a lesson in confronting humiliating mistakes while keeping her head held high
updated 9:29 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Cornell Belcher says the story of the "tea party wave" in 2010 was bogus; it was an election determined by ebbing Democratic turnout
updated 4:12 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Les Abend says pilots want protocols, preparation and checklists for all contingencies; at the moment, controlling a deadly disease is out of their comfort zone
updated 11:36 PM EDT, Sun October 19, 2014
David Weinberger says an online controversy that snowballed from a misogynist attack by gamers into a culture war is a preview of the way news is handled in a world of hashtag-fueled scandal
updated 8:23 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Julian Zelizer says Paul Krugman makes some good points in his defense of President Obama but is premature in calling him one of the most successful presidents.
updated 10:21 PM EDT, Sun October 19, 2014
Conservatives can't bash and slash government and then suddenly act surprised if government isn't there when we need it, writes Sally Kohn
updated 8:05 AM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
ISIS is looking to take over a good chunk of the Middle East -- if not the entire Muslim world, write Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider.
updated 9:00 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
The world's response to Ebola is its own sort of tragedy, writes John Sutter
updated 4:33 PM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Hidden away in Russian orphanages are thousands of children with disabilities who aren't orphans, whose harmful treatment has long been hidden from public view, writes Andrea Mazzarino
updated 1:22 PM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
When you hear "trick or treat" this year, think "nudge," writes John Bare
updated 12:42 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
The more than 200 kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls have become pawns in a larger drama, writes Richard Joseph.
updated 9:45 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Peggy Drexler said Amal Alamuddin was accused of buying into the patriarchy when she changed her name to Clooney. But that was her choice.
updated 4:43 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Ford Vox says the CDC's Thomas Frieden is a good man with a stellar resume who has shown he lacks the unique talents and vision needed to confront the Ebola crisis
updated 4:58 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
How can such a numerically small force as ISIS take control of vast swathes of Syria and Iraq?
updated 9:42 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
How big a threat do foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq pose to the West? It's a question that has been much on the mind of policymakers and commentators.
updated 8:21 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
More than a quarter-million American women served honorably in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Now they are home, we have an obligation to help them transition back to civilian life.
updated 4:27 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Paul Begala says Rick Scott's deeply weird refusal to begin a debate because rival Charlie Crist had a fan under his podium spells disaster for the Florida governor--delighting Crist
updated 12:07 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
The longer we wait to engage on Ebola, the more limited our options will become, says Marco Rubio.
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Democratic candidates who run from President Obama in red states where he is unpopular are making a big mistake, says Donna Brazile
updated 12:29 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
At some 7 billion people, the world can sometimes seem like a crowded place. But if the latest estimates are to be believed, then in less than a century it is going to feel even more so -- about 50% more crowded, says Evan Fraser
updated 12:53 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Paul Callan says the Ebola situation is pointing up the need for better leadership
updated 6:45 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Nurses are the unsung heroes of the Ebola outbreak. Yet, there are troubling signs we're failing them, says John Sutter
updated 1:00 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Dean Obeidallah says it's a mistake to give up a business name you've invested energy in, just because of a new terrorist group
updated 7:01 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Fear of Ebola is contagious, writes Mel Robbins; but it's time to put the disease in perspective
updated 1:44 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Oliver Kershaw says that if Big Tobacco is given monopoly of e-cigarette products, public health will suffer.
updated 9:35 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
Stop thinking your job will make you happy.
updated 10:08 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says it's time to deal with another scandal involving the Secret Service — one that leads directly into the White House.
updated 7:25 AM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Americans who choose to fight for militant groups or support them are young and likely to be active in jihadist social media, says Peter Bergen
updated 9:03 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Stephanie Coontz says 11 years ago only one state allowed same sex marriage. Soon, some 60% of Americans will live where gays can marry. How did attitudes change so quickly?
updated 4:04 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Legalizing assisted suicide seems acceptable when focusing on individuals. But such laws would put many at risk of immense harm, writes Marilyn Golden.
updated 9:07 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Julian Zelizer says the issues are huge, but both parties are wrestling with problems that alienate voters
updated 6:50 PM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Mel Robbins says the town's school chief was right to cancel the season, but that's just the beginning of what needs to be done
updated 11:43 AM EDT, Sat October 11, 2014
He didn't discover that the world was round, David Perry writes. So what did he do?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT