I'm an evangelical pastor, and I biked 1,600 miles along the US-Mexico border. The only border crisis is America's disgusting treatment of migrants.

After crossing the Rio Grande, migrants get off a Border Patrol bus to prepare for their reception by the Val Verde Humanitarian Coalition in Del Rio. Brandon Bell/Getty Images
I rode 1,600 miles along southern border, spoke with residents, immigrant, and border patrol, and cycled the entire distance.

False propaganda by politicians and media about a crisis facing border communities is not true

Only problem at the border is the US' treatment of asylum seekers and immigrants.

Doug Pagitt, an evangelical pastor, is the co-founder and executive Director of Vote Common Good.

This column is an opinion piece. These thoughts are solely the author's.

Listening to politicians and pundits from certain networks' news programs can give the impression that the US-Mexico border communities are full of violence and crime, fuelled by illegal immigrants who cross the border to try to bypass our legal immigration system. This view suggests that borderland communities need to be saved.

After five weeks of biking over 1,600 miles along the border, with a group made up of faith leaders and activists, I have come to realize that this is far from the truth. I met with border patrol officers and ranchers, humanitarians and faith leaders, as well as mayors, business owners and residents. Although there is a border crisis, it is one that places immigrants in danger and not US citizens.

The border communities aren’t as dangerous than politicians and the media say.

Our journey was designed to help us understand the US immigration system better and to make it more real. I asked everyone in our group the same question: "What do we know that is true from living here?"

One of the most popular answers is that border communities don't pose as much danger as the media portrays them to be. This was something we heard from everyone as we traveled, regardless of their political views. We floated along the Rio Grande River, near McAllen Texas, and landed at the exact spot where governors had held a press conference a few days earlier. They stoked fear over the border. I was accompanied by a local riverboat captain who pointed out the exact spot where they had held their press conference. He said, "We're here every day." They are simply not describing reality as it is.

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If you are not an immigrant, the border is safe. It is dangerous, and sometimes even fatal, for asylum seekers and immigrants. You can only cross the Rio Grande River to enter the country from the south. We talked to immigrants about their experiences in trying to reach the United States. Others were almost drowned trying to cross the river with their children. The river is the same spot where the governors were spewing lies. Immigrants have also drowned crossing it. A woman fell from the wall, breaking her pelvis. We were only feet away from a man who had fallen from El Paso's wall.

These immigrants are taking such risk. They have no other options.

There are better options

The United States has closed almost all Central American asylum claims since 2018. More recent COVID-19 restrictions have also frozen the asylum process for everyone else. The 200,000 annual farm worker visas are not enough to provide employment for US employers or migrants looking to work.

The crisis in Mexico and Central America is escalating. We talked with Indigenous Guatemalan women who had to flee their homes because their children were being threatened by gangs. A man from Honduras who lives on an island that only caters to cruise ships was economically devastated by the effects of the pandemic. His community was pushed into poverty. He knew his daughter needed surgery to correct her scoliosis. He was determined to make it to America and earn enough money for the procedure.

People in such a situation used to have a way to enter the United States. Due to Trump's "Remain in Mexico", a Trump-era policy, that requires almost all asylum seekers to wait for their adjudication in Mexico, tens of thousands are now living in makeshift camps in Mexico. They are therefore vulnerable to Mexican drug cartels. We spoke to many people who said they had to pay for their trip to the United States. They also incurred debts to criminal cartels. They now find themselves in a worse financial position than they were when they started. The "Remain in Mexico” policy has facilitated cartels and caused more human suffering.

Many of these problems could be solved by changes in US policy. The US should drastically increase the number farm worker visas that are available, from 200,000 per annum to at least 1,000,000 per annum. It is necessary because of the US's shortage of workers. Also, the Trump-era ban against asylum seekers must be lifted immediately by the Biden administration. The asylum adjudication system will have to be restructured once this has been done. The US should recruit thousands of ex-judges and magistrates to act as asylum judges, and establish a system that can process more cases per week. Although the Biden administration's proposal to increase the refugee cap from 15,000 to 125,000 is better that the 15,000 set by Trump, it doesn't go far enough. We must increase the number allowed to enter the country as refugees.

The border is in crisis. The border crisis is not a threat for Americans or borderland communities. However, it is a dangerous situation that can lead to death or life-threatening situations for thousands of people trying to flee violence and make a better living. They are not to be afraid - they just need our support.

Business Insider has the original article.