SAN JUAN, Texas – October 1st marks the 25th anniversary of Operation Gatekeeper, a federal program aimed at halting illegal immigration from Mexico into the United States. Today the Rio Grande Valley Equal Voice Network and other partners came together to host a panel discussion reflecting on the past, present and future of the region.

Christina Patiño Houle, “Budget money has been moved from things that could have been put towards infrastructure. Towards better education for our kids, towards public hospitals. That has instead been used to build up the militarization of the region through border wall.”

Organizers say since Operation Gatekeeper the region has been occupied as a military zone and has resulted in numerous and needless deaths along the border.

Martha Sanchez, LUPE, “The amount of money they have been investing in this region that is never to better our lives or to increase the quality of life of this region, but it’s only to increase fear and division.”

The discussion also took time to examine the region before Operation Gatekeeper and to discuss their vision for the future.

“We have border residents have a responsibility and also have agency in shaping what our border looks like.” said Houle.

The Southern Border Communities coalition has developed a new border vision creating 21st century border governance by expanding public safety, protecting human rights, and welcoming residents and newcomers.

Martha Sanchez says she is concerned for the future generation of children who will grow up in this militarized zone adding if people want to stop it they must rise up at the polls.

“This is where our power is and 2020 is coming up around the corner we’ll have the opportunity to really vote for those people who do not have the vision of militarization in our border.”

Patiño-Houle says as the 2020 elections approach, she hopes candidates will tackle these narratives as opportunities and platforms for their campaigns.

“We’re coming up on a very important election. What we want to see is candidates taking on these platforms and announcing how they are going to think about the border zones. How they are going to be thinking about immigration reform because this is really a critical issue in the upcoming year.”