At UT Panel on the Border Crisis, A Desire to “Move Forward”


More than 60,000 unaccompanied children have crossed the U.S.-Mexico border since October of last year. Consequently, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement has declared a state of emergency at the border. Humanitarian and human rights issues resulting from the ongoing crisis on the border prompted Thursday’s campus event, Foro Urgente: Understanding the Humanitarian Crisis on the Border.

Students, faculty, and community members packed the Santa Rita Room in the Union to hear the Texas Land Commissioner, Consul General of the Consulate of El Salvador, and other immigration experts. The forum regularly flipped back and forth between English and Spanish, with interpreters offering translations via headsets given to the crowd.

NPR correspondent John Burnett moderated the panel. Burnett had previously done investigative journalism work in the U.S.-Mexican borderlands, and he opened the panel with a narrative of a boy he had met who was waiting for the border patrol to pick him up.

“He had paddled across the Rio Grande literally moments earlier,” Burnett said.

Burnett used the story to explore issues regarding the ongoing border and immigration crisis, ranging from legal hurdles immigrants endured to varying conditions at detainment centers.

“The crisis, which is only four hours from Austin, is having a direct impact on the future of border control,” he said.

Each of the panelists provided a different perspective of expertise on the issue.

Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson noted that tightened border security had led to a reduction of circular immigration. According to Paterson, immigrants who used to go back to Mexico now had no choice but to stay in the U.S. out fear of being caught on the way back.

Ana Lorena Siria de Lara, Consul General in the Consulate of El Salvador, shed light on the El Salvadorian point of view. Because of past political climates, El Salvadorians have had to endure unique immigration struggles, she said.

“Our people don’t want to come. The people that have come, come because we have to failed to provide them conditions they need to live,” de Lara said.

De Lara’s opinions gave way to talk to talk about potential, long-term economic solutions that would reduce the need for border-crossings altogether.

The latter half of the forum was devoted to a discussion of community responses to the action being taken, combining the typical expert analysis of policy and humanitarian forums with a platform for advocacy and solutions to the crisis.

Representatives from organizations like Circle of Health International, Immigrant Services Network of Austin, and Arte de Lágrimas: Refugee Artwork Project spoke on their various contributions in helping those affected by the crisis through their efforts in providing refugees outlets for expression, humanitarian relief, and legal services.

At one point in the forum, Burnett took a moment to speak on the of the future of crisis. “This is where it starts,” he said. “Now that the sexy headlines are over, this is where we move forward and make progress from.”

An audience member listens to the panel discussion via a headset. Photo by Anna Donlan.


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