Monday, September 18, 2006

Topics Affecting the Rio Grande Valley

Each city in the Rio Grande Valley has its own issues with which to contend. Some have to deal with growth. Some have to deal with corruption. Some have to deal with budget problems. As a region, however, the Rio Grande Valley has some common issues. I gave some thought to some of the recurring issues that affect the RGV. I've identified the following: immigration, border security, health issues like diabetes and tuberculosis, education in public schools and colleges/universities, poverty, crime, flood prevention, and water. I'll go into greater detail.
 
Right now, one of the bigger issues is immigration. The way immigration affects the RGV is rather obvious to residents, but I'll spell it out. Given that the RGV is on the U.S.-Mexico border, we see a great deal of both legal and illegal immigrants. The main attraction for both types of immigrants is that of culture. Immigrants from Mexico are able to enjoy a culture very similar to their own while enjoying some of the better things that American culture has to offer. For some, the RGV is only a staging area before venturing further into the U.S. So, we have a growing immigrant population in addition to high traffic of immigrants who are just passing through. Any legislation or actions dealing with immigration, therefore, directly affects the Rio Grande Valley.
 
Related to immigration is border enforcement. Efforts to stop the flow of illegal immigration has a direct impact on our labor force and the price of goods and services. In addition, increased border security affects the flow of drugs into the U.S. There is debate as to whether increased border security does any good to stem the flow of both illegal immigrants and drugs. Whichever way those in power decide to go, it affects us in the RGV because the security forces will work and live with us.
 
Related to the flow of immigrants is tuberculosis. The Rio Grande Valley has a high percentage of TB infections relative to the size of the population. Houston has more cases of TB, but it is a smaller percentage of the population. What further complicates things is that the RGV has residents with multiple drug resistant strains. This obviously affects public health, but it also affects our indigent care programs as it costs our local governments a great deal of money to treat.
 
Another health issue that affects the Rio Grande Valley is that of diabetes. Mexican-Americans, which comprise a majority of the RGV residents, have a high rate of diabetes. The University of Texas-Pan American recently opened a research center to work towards solving this problem. In the meantime, diabetes is a problem that affects RGV families. For those who can afford treatment, it's a drain on their income. For those who can't, it's a drain on our public assistance. If you know anybody with diabetes, you know that there is always the possibility of blindness, amputations, heart disease, and other complications. Any of these can severely impact the economic wellbeing of families.
 
Education is probably the single best solution that the RGV has for many of its ills. This can refer to public schools or higher education. Therefore, any changes in school financing, requirements, testing, or other burdens on the education systems affect the future of the Rio Grande Valley. Big burdens, obviously, will slow down the RGV's progress. High dropout rates are also a big concern. Any major improvements in education can help alleviate the next big issue affecting the RGV, poverty.
 
The sad truth about the Rio Grande Valley is that poverty widespread. With a high population of legal and illegal immigrants, in addition to the native population, competing for the same jobs, wages are low. Although you may be gainfully employed, you may be having a tough time making ends meet. Education does help improve the circumstances of many, but there is still fierce competition for the good jobs. In any case, there is a large population of people whose income is much less than what is considered the official poverty level. Poverty, in turn, affects many other things that challenge the RGV: healthcare, education, housing, crime, and such.
 
Speaking of crime, the Rio Grande Valley has plenty of that. There is crime committed by residents and crime committed by illegal immigrants and by the drug smugglers. Of more significance is the drug trade. There is so much money involved in drugs that it affects our local governments. There are many instances of police, judges, city officials, county officials, and others who have been jailed for their parts in the drug trade.
 
In a different vein, other issues include flooding and water. In one case, it's too much water. In the other case it's not enough. The Rio Grande Valley is perpetually in shortage of water. We have on major source of water, the Rio Grande River. Our neighbors to the south often see fit to short their paisanos downstream and their neighbors to the north with their contribution to the Rio Grande River. Our reservoirs normally stay well below capacity as a result. It's not all the fault of Mexican watermasters. One can also blame nature for not providing enough rain upstream.
 
On the other side of the spectrum, if the RGV gets hit with a good hurricane that dumps a great deal of water in a short period of time, then the valley would be flooded. Flood control systems are in place, in the form of levees. However, like in the case of New Orleans, they have been neglected and would be inadequate to ensure the safety of the region. The remedy to the problem runs into the hundreds of millions of dollars. This is money that could go into solving some of the other issues affecting the RGV. However, if a good flood happens to occur, the other issues are moot.
 
So, you see, the challenge of our local governments and elected officials is how to manage the limited resources available, usually money, to best deal with these issues. Everybody has different opinions about what the priorities are. We can focus on a few issues and effectively deal with them, only to be overwhelmed by the other issues. We could also try to deal with all evenly and end up being ineffective at all of them.
 
Of course, it doesn't help when we get government officials who are in power to help themselves and their friends. Like parasites, they take and give nothing back. We could probably live with those parasites if there were some kind of symbiosis, but the relationship is pretty one-sided.
 
I suggest that you keep these issues in mind when somebody asks you for your vote in November. You need to decide where you stand so that you can choose somebody who best represents your priorities. Otherwise, you'll simply vote for whomever did a better marketing job. There is more to choosing leaders than who has the best ads.
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