People near the front lines of what’s happening at the southwest border often have rather complex and layered views about what’s going on there.
A tendency to oversimplify these views helps to inform a lopsided policy response to the border — one that has piled on more and more security measures without addressing the obvious other dimensions of the problem.
People living near the border feel unsafe, are fed up, and demand more security. This account has a lot of truth to it, but it is a huge oversimplification. In general, majority views on the border and immigration have for a long time been complex and, at first blush, perhaps self-contradictory: demanding more security, more pragmatism, and more compassion.
Some ranchers, like the quasi-vigilante Roger Barnett, have aggressively advocated for greater security. Others have more nuanced views. (See some supremely illustrated examples in Edward Caputo’s 2007 Virginia Quarterly Review article). Lavoyger Durham appears to be one of the latter group. Durham is a South Texas rancher. He’s at the center of this powerful article by Ananda Rose discussing the rise in migrant deaths in South Texas.
Rose rightly calls Durham a good Samaritan. He’s put up South Texas’s first water station, and often offers urgently needed assistance to migrants who are too weak to travel onward. Some of the help he offers is technically illegal. Durham, who like many border ranchers is bilingual, at some point started to ask the migrants he encounters who are too weak to go on if he can interview them as they wait for the Border Patrol. He says he wants to understand them and their journey. Most say no, but some agree. Durham’s conversations with them, even in their weakened states, are humanizing. The migrants can tell their stories, such as in the video above. His YouTube channel is worth checking out.
It’s interesting, then, to watch Durham talk in this video, produced by the Texas Department of Agriculture, about the urgent security needs at the border and the overall lack of safety.
Concern about security and concern about migrants coexist.
There are three things to observe. First, what people want out of the government defies simplification into a ‘greater security/less security’ trope. Second, we should actually try to understand how all these views fit together according to people’s worldviews, rather than seeing them as contradictory.
Thing third thing to observe poses a question that’s difficult to answer: Why has our political response obsessed so much over the security dimension of the border and immigration, when there is clearly a whole lot else going on? The response does injustice to the complexity of how Americans think about, feel about, and respond to what’s happening at the border. It’s a systemic response, reducible to no clear group of policymakers, and it has not satisfied anybody.