Rodney visits border with congressional candidates and Vote Common Good for an up-close study of the crisis there

Democratic nominee for U.S. House (AR-01) Rodney Govens recently spent four days at the U.S.-Mexico border with faith leaders from the nonpartisan nonprofit Vote Common Good as well as several other congressional candidates:

    • Tamie Wilson, running for U.S. House in Ohio’s District 4; and

    • David Kim, running for U.S. House in California’s District 34.

The purpose of the trip? To listen and learn about the border crisis from relief workers, local officials, border patrol agents, and families seeking asylum who have been staying in shelters there for months, awaiting their appointments with border officials. 

Three men and a woman lock arms for a photo in front of a big bus that reads "vote common good"
Congressional candidates Rodney Govens (AR-01), David Kim (CA-34), Jerrad Christian (OH-12), and Tamie Wilson (OH-04) joined Vote Common Good for a 4-day border experience, studying the situation there firsthand and hearing from local officials, border agents, migrants, and relief workers on both sides of the border.

The group traveled from Douglas, Arizona, across the border into Mexico, where staff at nonprofit shelters and resource centers for asylum-seekers described their work and the inefficiencies and harms caused by a broken immigration system.

Rodney and the group stayed at these shelters during their trip — the same shelters that provide safe housing, food, and legal resources for asylum-seekers during the months-long wait to apply for asylum: the Bella Vista Los Tigres Casa de la Misericordia in Nogales, Mexico, and the Lily of the Valley Presbyterian Church in Agua Prieta, Mexico. Evenings included community time, Mexican music, as well as singalongs of familiar and inspiring American songs, led by Vote Common Good’s Dan Dietrich, a former church music director and a frequent host of VCG’s video podcast.

Hearing firsthand from migrants

At the shelters, Rodney and the group visited with many migrants, families who explained why they left their homes and described their journeys walking across the desert for days, all the while trying to the shield their youngest children from the elements and the dangers of the trail.

“We heard them share detailed accounts of how they got to this point,” Rodney said. “All of them said they want to escape some type of threat in their home country and they want to come to the U.S. legally. These are good people with no criminal history — the church organizations vet them deeply before they can stay in their shelters, due to the threat of violence plaguing the area.”

They met a family from Ecuador that escaped constant death threats from local cartels. “They watched the cartel drown a family in the river before the Colombia and Panamanian border,” Rodney said. “They saw their friends murdered before their eyes, and they were extorted out of everything they own.”

A 69-year-old man from Calì, Colombia, named Humberto, spent a long time talking with Rodney; Humberto had bought land in Colombia with his retirement pension, and then moved his children and grandchildren onto his property. 

“He simply wanted to live in peace with his grandchildren and family,” Rodney shared. “The local crime syndicates thought otherwise and took two of his sons and seized his land. They charged him hundreds of thousands in their local currency to avoid further harassment. When he couldn’t pay, they promised to return the next day and slaughter everyone. They left in the dark of night, all together.” 

The journey to the resource shelter near the border was harrowing and almost ended in catastrophe. Hear his story in this recap video from Vote Common Good.

Deep empathy & real benefits for the U.S.

Rodney acknowledges that he may have more empathy for the plights of asylum-seekers than some Americans. He’s a longtime volunteer Court Appointed Special Advocate, a person who is assigned by judges overseeing foster care cases to “mentor” and advocate for specific children who are in the protection of DHS either temporarily or permanently.

But fixing the immigration system is not merely an issue of empathy for other human beings: It’s an economic one, too. Not only is the wall ineffective, it’s costing American taxpayers millions every year — totaling billions over time — while the immigration court system is so backed up that asylum-seekers have almost no chance at staying alive while waiting their turn to be approved and legally enter the United States.

And then there’s the benefit of protecting and building our nation’s agriculture producing capacity. Rodney noted that many farmers in his district urgently need more farm workers, and migrants are eager to perform that back-breaking labor — jobs that farmers cannot fill without migrants.

It’s not just farm laborers wanting to come and work and pay taxes here, either. Some worked as computer science, business, or medical professionals in their home countries. One of the migrants Rodney met at the shelter was a longtime medical doctor — first a family doctor, then an anesthesiologist — who’d been waiting a month already just for the chance to apply for asylum.

(Continues below photo gallery)

‘We need to get immigration under control’

“We need to we need to get our immigration policies under control. I understand that,” he says. “But there are certain ways that you go about doing things, and this *points at the barbed wire* is inhumane. You wouldn’t treat a dog this way. And they’re not wild animals – they’re human beings. It’s inhumane.”

Regardless of how anyone feels about the wall or about immigrants coming into the U.S., though, the facts show — and both Republicans and Democrats agree — that the current policies are not working and the situation is not sustainable. It is time to elect people who will *act* instead of just fighting and sewing hate.

While Rodney and the others were on the Mexico side one day, walking the same blazing hot fence-line trail that immigrants walk to reach aid stations and begin their asylum application, an American citizen spotted a human-size hole or ditch leading under the wall to the U.S. side. He dropped to the ground and slid under the wall, emerging on the U.S. side in under 30 seconds. 

Later, border patrol agents were alerted about the breach location.

“The wall does not work, and we saw that firsthand. It was truly disheartening to see this monstrosity that does nothing to deter illegal immigration yet exudes hate and lends itself to dishonest far-right campaigns that drive more hate,” Rodney said.

“It’s tough to take it all in. When you hear their stories of evading capture from cartels, you hear the stories of survival in the desert three days at a time with no water, no food. You hear about adults shielding the kids that … struck me. Shielding them from the elements out in the desert, making sure they didn’t get too hot, too cold.

“There’s no way to sugarcoat it. They’re not doing this for themselves. They’re not doing this for any reason outside of the right reasons for their family.”

The pathway to legal immigration — to seeking and obtaining asylum in the U.S. — is at best broken; at its worst, it’s causing unneeded deaths and it’s empowering xenophobes in driving further divisions and hate among Americans, Rodney noted. 

“Our pathway to do it the ‘right way’ is failing. All the families we spoke with have been waiting on an asylum appointment for weeks, and I’m a lot of cases months, just to apply for asylum,” he said. “Asylum applications are approved at a rate of less than 30% and the approval still requires a sponsor in the U.S. with a valid address — and then it can take years after that for approval.  

“We have an immigration crisis in this country, but it isn’t with our border patrol and security organizations. We need more investments in processing asylum applications, we need more immigration judges, and we need to police our visa overstays, which are plaguing our immigration system right now.

“Having seen it and experienced it and understanding both sides of the wall, I can say what we’re currently doing isn’t working. And maybe there’s no quick solution, but we’ve got to do something.”

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