AUSTIN, Texas – All this talk of a national emergency caused by a border security crisis makes this the perfect time for residents who live on the frontera to take control of the narrative. 

This is the view of state Rep. César Blanco, D-El Paso, who chairs the Border Caucus in the Texas House of Representatives.

“Unfortunately, politics has overshadowed the positive aspects of the border. We need to define ourselves on the border and not let other politicians who are throwing red meat out to their base define us,” said Blanco, in an exclusive interview with the Rio Grande Guardian and RGV Public Radio 88 FM.

“We are a vibrant, thriving, multi-cultural community that has fostered trade routes for hundreds of years, even prior to our country’s birth.”

Blanco said his House colleagues from the border region “get it.” The key thing to do now, he said, is educate other House members. This can happen by organizing visits to the border region.

“We need to help educate those who do not understand the border by encouraging them to visit us. The Rio Grande Valley Partnership does a phenomenal job every biennium. I have been on several of these trips, where we go visit a variety of locations, whether they are higher education campuses, ports of entry, tourism destinations,” Blanco said.

“We need to do more of that, not just in the Rio Grande Valley but also Laredo, Eagle Pass, Del Rio, Presidio and El Paso. We need to demonstrate to the rest of the state and the rest of the country how important economically our border region is, not just for the state of Texas but for the nation.

“The time of letting others define us is over. We are going to make sure we educate people know how important our economy is to the rest of the country.”

Blanco’s District 76 in El Paso is bookended by two international ports of entry – the Bridge of the Americas and Zaragoza Bridge. Billions of dollars of goods flow through these bridges.

“Mexico is the largest trading partner for 22 states, including Texas. We need to start looking at Mexico from an economic perspective,” Blanco said.

“We saw President Andrés Manuel López Obrador visit the northern part of the Mexican border. He has indicated there is going to be an initiative to make strong economic investments in the border region. We need to look at doing the the same. We need to start focusing on how we can partner with Mexico to make sure our region thrives economically.”

López Obrador visited Reynosa on Friday to announce his new Free Zone of the Northern Border program. The economic stimulation plan includes reducing income taxes from 30 percent to 20 percent, reducing VAT from 16 percent to eight percent, and increasing the minimum wage to $176.20 pesos per day, twice the current rate.

“There are ways of getting border security and trade to mutually benefit each other,” Blanco said. “We are talking about technology, safe and secure trade, moving it in a fast and secure manner, trade that creates businesses, jobs and opportunities for our region. That is what we need to start focusing on.”

Border Trade Alliance perspective

Paola Avila

Paola Avila chairs the Border Trade Alliance and is vice president of international business affairs at the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce. Asked about President Trump’s prime time address to the nation, Avila told the San Diego Union-Tribune that the president was confusing several different issues — border security, immigration and trade among them.

“We agree that we need a secure border, but we believe that we have a secure border,” Avila said. “Our border region is an opportunity zone, not a danger zone.Avila said Trump’s rhetoric could damage the trade and tourism industries that are key parts of the San Diego region’s economy. She pointed to San Diego’s low crime rate for a city of its size as evidence that it’s inaccurate to portray the border as a place riddled with violent crime.

Avila said she would support the president’s requests for technology at the border and more judges for the immigration system.

Editor’s Note: In his interview with the Rio Grande Guardian and RGV Public Radio 88 FM, state Rep. César Blanco discussed in depth the State of Texas’ response to border security. We will focus on this in a separate story later this week.