|BROWNSVILLE, April 2 - Congressman Filemon Vela met recently with Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano in Washington, D.C. to discuss the impact sequestration is having on border crossings.
The Brownsville Democrat said he came away encouraged that Napolitano may have more flexibility budget cuts to Customs and Border Protection and that this might mean that an overtime ban and planned furloughs for CBP personnel at the ports of entry may be reduced. This, he said, was due in part to a Continuing Resolution the House had passed.
“We are hoping the flexibility given by this Continuing Resolution is going to help soften the blow on some of those things. They are crunching the numbers with the Congressional Budget Office,” Vela told the Guardian, in an exclusive interview.
At the end of the interview, Vela was asked if there was any special message he had left with Napolitano on behalf the people of South Texas. Vela said there was. He said he had decried the loss of the cross-border culture he grew up in. A loss caused by drug cartel violence in Mexico.
“I wanted to make sure Secretary Napolitano understood that here along our South Texas border, our cross-border culture has been destroyed because of the violence in Mexico,” Vela said.
Vela said the reason he brought this subject up is because those who live along the border and those who represent the South Texas border region need to let people in Washington know that “the border we now live in is not the same border we lived in just ten years ago.”
Vela repeated what many living along the border knows first-hand. “In a relatively short period of time we have gone from a cross-border culture to one where our neighbors and family members who live in Mexico are no longer safe.” Vela said many Mexican nationals have moved to South Texas to avoid the violence. “And, those of us here who enjoyed going across the border no longer can enjoy it like we used to. I think that is a message that Washington needs to hear loud and clear. I think that is something Secretary Napolitano understood, when I met with her,” Vela said.
Vela grew up in a family that crossed back and forth from Brownsville to Matamoros as a matter of course. The Guardian asked him to reminisce.
“My mother’s uncle is buried in the cathedral in Matamoros. My mother, though born in Harlingen, attended elementary school at a Catholic school in Matamoros. Growing up and well into our adult life, like many other people that live here on the border, crossing over to have lunch or dinner was an ordinary thing,” Vela said.
“My father would cross over for lunch to Los Norteños in Matamoros. To think that we can no longer enjoy things so simple to me is really an indictment of our national leadership, in both countries.”
Vela said he believes a more could have been done to prevent the U.S. and Mexico from getting to the point on drug cartel violence that the countries have reached today. “I think we need to do a whole lot more to make sure and change that so that our neighbors in Mexico and those of us who live here can have that border culture that we enjoyed so much,” he said.
The Guardian pointed out to Vela something U.S. Sen. John Cornyn remarks on when he visits the Rio Grande Valley – that many members of the Senate from other parts of the country have no idea what living on an international border is like and why international trade is so important.
“I believe that members in both parties from the Texas delegation understand that. I agree that there are a large number of members of both houses of Congress that do not,” Vela said. “I can tell you in the simple context of a homeland security committee that maybe by nature of the geographic distance, there are people who live in other states who don’t have any idea what we are talking about when we are talking about a cross-border culture.”