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Several members of Congress visited a “settlement” near the southern border near McAllen, Texas, on Friday to observe what Representative Vicente Gonzalez called the “Third World conditions” that exist in the United States.
Gonzalez, D-Texas, led the event in his district with the House Select Committee on Economic Disparity and Fairness in Growth. The committee also held a field hearing with Chairman Jim Himes, D-Conn., and Representatives Byron Donalds, R-Fla., Jodey Arrington, R-Texas, and others.
In Indian Hills Colony and other similar colonies, residents live in extreme poverty in houses that often resemble shacks. Built in rural areas near the Mexican border with little regulation, most settlements lack running water, sewage treatment, broadband, and other key infrastructure.
“We have American citizens living in Third World conditions in this country,” Gonzalez told Fox News Digital. “And although we have spent billions of dollars on infrastructure and in this country, we have to make sure that they are not left behind and that we raise their level to the rest of the world, to the rest of the country.”
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The issues go beyond sanitation to other major obstacles affecting how people can move forward in life, residents and local officials said. Many settlements lack paved roads. Like much of South Texas, the settlements struggle with flooding due to insufficient drainage infrastructure. During these floods, poorly constructed colonia homes often take on water, which can pose health risks to residents.
Connie Villanueva, local resident and former member of the Monte Alto ISD school board, said Friday during a panel discussion with committee members that the lack of broadband makes remote learning even worse for colonia children than their peers elsewhere.
You could give the kids a mobile hotspot for remote learning, Villanueva said, but it was “like the good old days when it was dial-up” due to poor cell service.
Dirt roads that even flood hurt children’s learning, Villanueva said.
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“Our buses are taking a beating,” she said. “Children don’t come to school for days or weeks depending on whether the road is empty or dry.”
Another issue that some community members have pointed out is that the dirt roads slow down emergency vehicles and cause sinus problems in young children due to the kicked up dust.
Himes said the federal government needs to adjust its funding formulas to ensure communities like these unincorporated settlements in South Texas get the resources they need to enter the 21st century.
“Some very poor counties won’t get any CARES [Act] the money because they have to ask for a refund. But of course they don’t have the money to do the spending in the first place,” he said. “That’s the kind of thing we have to sort out.
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“What I’m advocating for Washington is to find ways to ensure that the money can go directly to the communities that need it and not have to go through the channels of state governments or even county governments” , Gonzalez said of one of his proposed solutions. “We need to find ways to speak directly to municipalities and directly to families who are suffering and who need resources.”
Cameron County Commissioner David Garza, meanwhile, pointed out that the McAllen area in southern Texas is the largest metropolitan area in the United States without direct access to a freeway. This cripples its economy and further hurts its ability to secure federal funding, he said during the select committee hearing.
“Often our projects don’t compete because grant funding is measured on the same metrics as urban projects,” Garza said. “It’s hard to compete with areas that have had freeways for the past 40, 50 years.”
Republicans, meanwhile, spoke out against what they said was a bloated federal bureaucracy that makes it difficult to secure federal funds for infrastructure projects in South Texas. They also alleged that a lack of border security was redirecting resources from South Texas that could improve the lives of residents.
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“How do we sign this project, versus how you sign it in Oklahoma City versus how you sign it in New York, versus how you sign it in Miami,” the rep said. Byron Donalds, R-Fla. “It’s all different areas, but they’re trying to use, like, these big buckets.”
“I think we should really explore how the federal government can partner with local areas to meet this need,” Steil said of the destructive flooding that is wreaking havoc on colonias. “Flood infrastructure costs millions of dollars.”
“Instead, what’s so frustrating when I hear from people here is that the federal government and local resources … are needed to deal with a different crisis,” Steil continued. “And how porous the border costs the state of Texas and the cities of the Rio Grande Valley millions of dollars every year.”
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