Immigration moved to back burner

BY GIL POTTS

On the evening of March 31, 2014, a 25-year-old former United States Marine made possibly the biggest mistake of his life. Undoubtedly, the highly decorated two-tour veteran of Afghanistan knowingly risked his life on the battlefield more than once. He survived his combat tours mostly unscathed. But this time his mistake would cause him months of confinement, beatings, and torture, both physical and mental. And it’s not over yet.

Sargent Andrew Tahmooressi is sitting in a prison in Mexico, where he has been beaten and tortured, not for mistakes he made defending his country, but for the mistake of unknowingly making a wrong turn near the border with Mexico. The pickup truck he was driving contained two weapons, both illegal south of the border. While his entry into Mexico was un-intentional, Mexican border agents refused to allow him to turn around and leave. Although he had a green light to proceed into Mexico, he stopped voluntarily and asked to return to the U.S. He is now jailed on weapons charges.  That’s been six months ago and it could be years before he sees the sunrise over American soil again.   Of course, this is a very condensed version of the story. But nevertheless, a story of irony. 

Last month, Texas Republican Rep. Ted Poe introduced a resolution calling on Mexico to release Tahmooressi. “It is ironic that this administration can deal with the Taliban to secure the release of a POW, but we will not do the same for a Marine imprisoned in Mexico. It is time for the White House to act.” 

Sgt. Tahmooressi was traveling from Florida to San Diego, California, where he was to begin treatment for severe post-traumatic stress disorder, a common affliction haunting many of our returning war weary veterans. The irony lies in the comparison of how these two countries, the United States and Mexico, treat those who cross their borders, legally or otherwise. 

Mexico itself takes a hard line position against foreigners who violate its laws and immigration policies. Andrew Tahmooressi can personally attest to their zero tolerance stance on gun possession.  Under Mexican law, it is also a felony to be an illegal alien residing anywhere in the country.

Immigration authorities there keep detailed records of all foreign visitors. Those who enter the country under false pretenses are summarily incarcerated or deported, and those who aid in illegal immigration are sent to prison. At its southern border with Guatemala, Mexican border guards are notorious for their brutality of would-be immigrants. 

In America, we have long standing laws regarding immigration. You just have to go back a few decades to recall their enforcement. So long in fact, law makers in Washington would now have us believe there are no enforceable laws to curb the current influx of illegal immigrants.

Now, the plight of thousands of undocumented South American immigrants has been stalemated with a recent announcement by President Barak Obama, not to address the issue until after the upcoming mid-term elections.   

Disillusionment and frustration fill the minds of not only the effected immigrants now left in limbo, but also many empathic citizens with serious concerns for their safety and well-being. There are also those with pressing concerns of lurking dangers inherent to a border that anyone in a remote area can cross unimpeded. 

For some Texans living in communities on or near the Rio Grande, life has been turned upside down. Just the overwhelming presence of law enforcement in the Rio Grande Valley has changed the daily activities of most residents. The Border Patrol has dispatched more agents to the region, the Texas Department of Public Safety has increased the number of troopers in the area, and Gov. Rick Perry has deployed as many as 1,000 guardsmen to the area. Although officials have refused to release exact numbers, Texas is spending about $1.3 million a week on state troopers and about $12 million a month on the guardsmen. 

Northwest of the Rio Grande Valley, West Texas communities appear less affected, but nevertheless apprehensive. The concern of rural residents near communities such as Valentine and Van Horn is not children from South America, but adults who are much more capable of walking the distance from the border, and potentially much more dangerous. 

What is really a bit unnerving is the federal government posted “Safety Instructions” at established “rescue stations” in some remote areas of the desert.  They are now posted in English, Spanish, and Mandarin Chinese.  The signs read, “If you need help push the red button. Help will arrive. Do not leave the area.” A very interesting contrast to the treatment of Sgt. Tahmooressi. 

There are no clear answers as to why the Sargent remains in prison after six long months. One thing for sure, it is no concern to Mexican officials. What is most disturbing though is the lack of concern by our State Department and other American officials, including President Obama, who has been petitioned to intervene by more than 100,000 concerned American citizens.  America certainly has the leverage to achieve the release of Tahmooressi. A government with the gravitas to accomplish it is another story.