U.S.-Mexico Border Vision
Photo courtesy of Pedro Rios, San Diego program director for the U.S.-Mexico Border Program of the American Friends Service Committee

Equal Voice

Analysis: It’s Time for a New Vision for the U.S.-Mexico Border

September 19, 2019

By Janna Zinzi

Families and community organizations along the U.S.-Mexico border are calling for a new vision for the region, saying it needs to be more welcoming to newcomers. They also are questioning the levels of federal law enforcement. Learn more in this news analysis.

As rhetoric and disrespect for human life has grown among some people in recent years, immigrant rights advocates are putting the spotlight on the hyper-militarization along the U.S.-Mexico border and the erosion of human rights – which they say began 25 years ago.

The Southern Border Communities Coalition (SBCC), made up of 60 organizations working from San Diego to Brownsville, Texas, has responded to conditions and conversations about migration with a new vision. Their report, “A New Border Vision,” emphasizes governance at the border instead of security. This marks a distinct difference; the security-based approach is based on the premise of a border invasion by criminals.

This is a critical moment for policymakers to hear the voices of southern border residents who experience the challenges of federal border policy.
Vicki Gaubeca of the Southern Border Communities Coalition

The current framing neglects that the people and businesses in border communities have a symbiotic relationship and cannot be separated from each other without adverse economic and social effects. Governance, as encouraged in “A New Border Vision,” asks for protecting human rights and welcoming newcomers.

People living and working on the southern border are leading the way to create shifts in policies and narrative.

“This is a critical moment for policymakers to hear the voices of southern border residents who experience the challenges of federal border policy on a daily basis, but who also have deep cross-border ties and experience the border as a place of encounter, hope and opportunity,” said Vicki Gaubeca, director of the Southern Border Communities Coalition.

While the country’s attention is on the southern border, advocates are affirming human rights for migrants and residents alike. Fifteen million people live in communities along the southern border, according to “A New Border Vision” and a government report, and increased militarization instills mistrust in border authorities.

Many community members know migration is not a threat. Congress has funneled more than $21 billion to federal immigration enforcement agencies. That is more than all other U.S. enforcement agencies combined, including the FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), U.S. Marshals and Secret Service. Most of this money goes to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), making it the country’s largest law enforcement agency, with a budget of $14.4 billion (fiscal 2018) and more than 59,000 employees, according to statistics in the SBCC report.

Border cities have lower rates of violent crime compared to other municipalities in the country, according to the FBI. A former CBP commissioner said that border cities are “safer” than inland ones in border states. Furthermore, a high majority of people entering the country arrive with prior authorization. “A New Border Vision” looks to divert funds from CBP and invest in the community’s real needs, including infrastructure, health care and education. The coalition includes those who have worked in the U.S. Border Patrol and intimately understand the need for solutions beyond criminalization.

“Using law enforcement to address a humanitarian need has never worked and never will,” said Jenn Budd, former U.S. Border Patrol agent and immigrant rights advocate. “The Border Patrol needs to be held accountable, border communities have the right to have a voice in how they are governed.”

The story of the southern border is not all about fear, violence and xenophobia. In response to the increased militarization and policing, many border residents are working together to keep their cities safe. Many residents in border communities respect families with mixed statuses; they work, pray and play together.

Community members in Douglas, Arizona, volunteered their time, money and energy to create a transitional sanctuary for new immigrants entering the country. They saw migrants held in detention centers without showers or basic human care, so they created a safe space to feed newcomers, help them connect them with family members around the country and find transportation.

The SBCC urges the media to do more reporting about the strength of communities in border towns, focusing on the voices of residents and advocates on the ground.

“Border communities are naturally beautiful, culturally diverse and economically vibrant,” said Gaubeca.

And advocates are pushing for more engagement between policymakers and community members who understand the dynamics of border living – an effort to make spaces truly safe and rebuild trust.

“We know our region better than anyone else,” Gaubeca said.

The SBCC report encourages mainstream media to cover what life in border communities actually looks like. People from both the United States and Mexico cross over regularly to shop, work or visit family. Mexicans coming to the U.S. to shop contribute significant tax revenue for many cities on the border. Many residents of the southern border believe their community extends beyond checkpoints and lines on a map.

“A New Border Vision” relies on responsible border management that is in line with international best practices and basic respect for human rights.

SBCC is committed to making sure the real stories of border communities are told. “A New Border Vision” pushes for transparent, evidence-based legislation that centers on human rights and is led by community voices.

“Migration is a fundamental part of our human experience,” said Pedro Rios, director of the San Diego-based American Friends Service Committee’s U.S-Mexico Border Program. His organization is a SBCC member, which contributed to “A New Border Vision.” “It’s a phenomenon as old as time, a source of prosperity, innovation and a defining feature of our world. Migration should never be criminalized. We must recognize our common humanity and shared potential.”


Janna Zinzi is a Los Angeles-based strategist and storyteller. In June, Zinzi wrote the Equal Voice story, “InnerCity Struggle Opens a New Center for Families in LA.” Zinzi uses language and performance to uplift the voices and stories of people of color, especially women and gender non-conforming people. Follow Zinzi on Twitter at @JannaZinzi. Equal Voice is Marguerite Casey Foundation’s publication featuring stories of America’s families creating social change. With Equal Voice, we challenge how people think and talk about poverty in America. All original and contracted Equal Voice content – articles, photos and videos – can be reproduced for free, as long as proper credit and a link to our homepage are included. This story has been updated since it was posted.

Analysis: It’s Time for a New Vision for the U.S.-Mexico Border