Undocumented Immigrants Are Literally Trapped in Rio Grande Valley

Thousands have flooded across the border into the United States, many of them children, fleeing danger and violence in their own country and hoping for a better life in ours. The refugee crisis has grown to the point where it is no longer possible to ignore, and detention and deportation are only band-aid measures, especially as they take longer to implement. That means many are spending even longer in the country, whether because they have not been detected or because they are waiting to be processed to either stay in the U.S. or be returned to their home country. Republicans trying to thwart any kind of immigration reform or pathway to citizenship make it sound as if those here undocumented are living a dream come true, and yes, for many it is better than what they left behind. Better is often a relative term, though, especially when what was left behind is literally life-endangering.

Here, they are safer, but many are essentially trapped.

The limits an undocumented immigrant faces was dramatically exposed just a week ago when Antonio Vargas, an undocumented journalist living in the United States, went to Texas to report on the plight of those who were entering the country illegally. There, he found himself detained as well, unable to get back onto a plane and return to his home state of California. Although he never crossed a national border, he found himself stuck by an internal checkpoint that essentially trapped him inside southern Texas. “I did not anticipate it. . . . I’d never been to the Texas border,” Vargas told CNN, adding that he was unaware that the area was being treated as essentially a “militarized zone.” Vargas was detained for eight hours because of his immigration status, although due to his high media profile he was eventually released.

Vargas showed the privilege that can come to a high-profile person living illegally in the country near the Rio Grande Valley in Texas, but for most people there life isn’t nearly as simple as an eight hour detention. In some cases, it can even be a matter of life and death.

A detailed and heartbreaking article by ThinkProgress details daily life for those in the Rio Grande Valley, surrounded by interior checkpoints that cut them off from the rest of the country. Inside, they are safe as long as they avoid showing up for work on the day that Border Patrol agents come to do immigration checks, but as a payoff they lose not only their freedom to travel more than a few miles from where they live, but their ability to connect with any of the rest of their families who may be on the other side of those checkpoints.

Some decisions are even more dire, such as one family’s attempt to weigh out whether it was worth evacuating to safety when a hurricane was approaching if it could mean being discovered as undocumented and deported. “When Hurricane Dolly hit southern Texas in July 2008, the family refused to leave their home to evacuate north to San Antonio,” writes Ester Yu-Hsi Lee. “Translating for her father, Roxana said, ‘You have to take a risk and stay at home, but supposedly the government takes you as refugees so that we can go through the checkpoints, but my dad says that we aren’t willing to take those risks.’”

Being trapped in the RGV has become an even bigger issue over the last year for those who can get pregnant. Obtaining any sort of medical care is difficult as an undocumented person, but reproductive health care, especially contraception, is a problem in itself. Unfortunately, the ability to address an unwanted pregnancy has virtually disappeared as HB 2, which passed last summer, has now closed every abortion provider in the valley. Without documentation, it is literally impossible to leave the area to terminate a pregnancy, leaving a person with two options — give birth or try to self-induce an abortion.

Cosmopolitan reporter Jill Filipovic details just how hard it now is to end an unwanted pregnancy for an undocumented person in the RGV. “[M]any Mexican nationals are in the Valley legally on a border-crossing visa, which allows visitors to enter the U.S. for 30 days but only travel within a 25-mile radius, so they can’t cross the checkpoint,” writes Filipovic. ”And if you’re undocumented, as are a quarter of people in the Valley, you’re not going to risk getting caught by immigration officials. All of the highways out of the Valley have checkpoints like the one in Sarita. When the checkpoint means they can’t drive to San Antonio, some women go through with pregnancies they don’t want. Others turn to Cytotec. Still others find out about unlicensed providers who perform cheap abortions out of their homes.”

Undocumented immigrants come to the U.S., knowing that they can be deported, that they may be without work, without family, without health care access, without the ability even to leave if a natural disaster comes their way. Each plight they face they still see as better than their future in their home country. Surely, we have the compassion within us to give them a real way to call this country their home, too?

Photo credit: Thinkstock


Jim Ven
Jim Ven6 months ago

thanks for the article.

Jane R.
Jane R.1 years ago

Sad situation for them, but we need to take care of our own first. The U.S. cannot support the whole world!

Carole R.
Carole R.2 years ago

Thanks for the post.

Donna F.
Donna F.2 years ago


Nils Anders Lunde
PlsNoMessage se2 years ago


Wanda Bagram
Past Member 2 years ago

. Not only do these increase chances of spreading communicable diseases to other children but to border guards as well, and the general community within which they live.
So while you are caught up on the emotions of this issue, please do me a favor, and do take the time to educate yourself on what a disease pandemic, as a consequence of our porous borders, may mean you those already here in the United States.”

Real Threat of undocumented Crossing is to Public Health.
July 7, 2014

Wanda Bagram
Past Member 2 years ago

Also, in a recent care2.com article “4 Awful Things the GOP is Saying About Refugee Children” written by Robin Marty (Who specializes in Reproductive Health) she claimed that reports saying allowing these undocumented children to run around the country unchecked would be a “public health issues” was a conservative LIE. BUT this article written by an African-American infectious disease specialist who has worked for the National Cancer Institute, the National Institutes of Health, the U.S. Army Medical Research Centers and the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention had the following to say closing his detailed article;
“I am not writing to scare anyone but rather to alert concerned individuals of the outcome that may happen if we continue to ignore the impact this mass immigration may have on public health outcomes in our community. These are just a few of what has been documented among others including chicken pox and MRSA staph infections. I wont even mention Cutaneous Leishmaniasis, Rift Valley fever, Schistosomiasis or anti-biotic resistant Tuberculosis. The reality is that these events have major and sever potential of becoming a public health crisis. In particular since that many of these individuals live in the tight spaces in which the children are contained on their way here and are housed in small congested areas in detention centers where they are housed in the U.S. Not only do these increase chances of spreading communicable diseases to

Wanda Bagram
Past Member 2 years ago

I will quote an article from ThyBlackMan.com on this very subject which I agree heavily with.
"Now I will say for the record, I have a problem with folk who have more compassion for people coming to the U.S. than the homeless veterans and children we have on our streets currently; and I find it funny that the folk who want to provide for these people (whom are definitely in need), are the same ones who will call the police on a homeless man asking for change, or who forget about the 1.6 million homeless children we have on our streets who were born in America, whom have yet to see the government provide for them in the manner in which these new arrivals have been provided for. And this is in particular directed to the black folk who display anterograde amnesia seeming to never ask for similar provisions for the 800,000 African American kids living on the streets. In the 2011 school year, enrollment statistics in preschools and K-12 programs reported a figure of 1,168,354 children in public schools known to be homeless. In the nation’s capital alone, the Public School System reports that over 3,000 of its students are known to be homelessness. Plus, California, New York, Texas and Florida are among the hardest hit by the homeless youth crisis, and presently these states are also dealing with the brunt of the recent immigration influx."

Beth Wilkerson
Beth Wilkerson2 years ago

Serious issues.

Deborah Boyles
Past Member 2 years ago

It reminds me of the song Imagine by John Lennon. Imagine if there were no countries....just people.