Colonias can no longer be forgotten outskirts on our border

Janhavi Nemawarkar

In the self-proclaimed greatest state in the Union, there is an implicit expectation that Texans have access to running water and sewage systems. However, these basic utilities do not exist for close to half a million Texans who live in colonias across the state. Texas lawmakers have the responsibility of ensuring that residents in these settlements have access to these basic human rights.

While multiple official definitions exist, colonias are generally defined by their close location to the border, poor housing and lack of infrastructure. These settlements sprung from the lack of regulations in Texas that allowed developers to sell land to low-income immigrants without also supplying basic utilities during the migrant-labor boom of the 1950s. Despite promises to provide such basic infrastructure, the unincorporated subdivisions lacked potable water, sewage systems and basic housing.

To this day, poor oversight of the institutions tasked with providing infrastructure and diminishing funds have restricted close to 90,000 people along the border from access to clean running water. Coupled with nonexistent sewage systems, no trash collection and general lack of medical services, colonias have higher rates of disease than the rest of Texas — hepatitis A, tuberculosis and other diseases occur twice as frequently there.

Texas lawmakers have been aware of this problem for years, but there has been insufficient progress. Although a considerable amount of money has been poured into finally providing basic infrastructure for some of these residents, there are still many more in need. Additionally, bureaucratic red tape and overlapping agency turf battles guarantee slow advancement.

Moreover, real-estate lobbies resistant to turning over private property rights have fought regulation, allowing new colonias to be built across the state. Although they now have basic water and sewage, impoverished residents still live without paved roads.

The poverty and public health risks of colonias further highlight the need for a more comprehensive state-regulated method of improving conditions. More than 40 percent of people who live in colonias along the border live below the poverty line; 19 percent more struggle just above it. In an interview with the Kinder Institute for Urban Research, Federal Reserve Bank development analyst Emily Ryder Perlmeter discussed the additional effort the state must provide.

“For a time, people weren’t even aware of this,” Perlmeter said. “Now a lot of funding has gone into these communities, but it will take a lot more money and a lot more time and effort to get all the government agencies on board to fix these issues.”

While these projects require substantial investment from the state, current inefficient initiatives have condemned thousands of Texans to live without basic necessities. The Texas legislature has an obligation to this significant segment of its population to provide them with basic infrastructure.

Nemawarkar is a Plan II, psychology and government freshman. Follow her on Twitter @janhavin97.