EDITORIAL: Hoping visits to the Valley help address misconceptions

The federal government has begun to reunite immigrant children with their families after a federal court order reversed the Trump administration’s policy of separating them. But the issue continues to bring people — from Congress members, human rights advocates and protest groups — to the Rio Grande Valley, whether to investigate or call for change.

Some people complain about what they call outside agitators coming to South Texas to protest current immigration policy. At one June 28 demonstration in Brownsville, which drew some 1,500 protesters, the American Civil Liberties Union told us they had bused in hundreds of people from Dallas, Houston and other areas. Some demonstrators have come from as far away as New York and Missouri.

We applaud them, however, for being active, involved members of our national community. Moreover, we welcome all visitors to the area — not just because of the economic benefits they bring, but for the information we hope they take back with them.

The Valley, like other border areas, has always had to fight public misconceptions. News reports describe the area as a string of backwater towns; the oft-reported high poverty rate invites images of campesinos sitting on the curb with arms outstretched, seeking alms.

The area’s economic challenges exist, to be sure — but they exist everywhere. Valley residents know, and we hope visitors see, that the region is pretty much the same as any other part of the United States. A quick drive through the Valley reveals the most common of American skylines: banking towers in a sea of fast-food joints, grocery stores and gas stations.

On the border, the Mexican influence is obvious, but surely comparable to Italian, Asian and German neighborhoods in other parts of the country. Our embrace of good neighbors of all backgrounds, and the cultural riches they offer, is a trait that is common in much of America.

In fact, several local cities — Brownsville, Harlingen, McAllen, Mission and others — proudly display banners showing that they have been designated All-America Cities, some of them more than once.

Our reputation of low educational achievement is belied by the presence of two major universities, three community college systems and several trade and specialized schools. Two of the nation’s top charter school systems originated in the Valley, and public school districts have earned national attention for improvement and excellence.

What the visitors won’t see is an area that is overrun by immigrants swarming the border. Nor will they see a heavily militarized area with jackbooted sentries standing on the street corners. Those immigrants who are detained and released can find help at the many centers, public and private, that exist to address their needs.

So whether people come to the Valley to protest, vacation or conduct business, we welcome them, and invite them to look around. We’re confident that they’ll feel right at home here.