U.S. Congressman Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio.
U.S. Congressman Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio.

SAN ANTONIO, Texas – I was heartened to read that the president and CEO of the McAllen Chamber of Commerce, Steve Ahlenius, discussed how the negative publicity and disparaging comments made by Texas leaders regarding our border communities have hurt the region.

It is disappointing, but Mr. Ahlenius is right. For far too long, our border communities have been trampled by elected leaders and candidates from both parties as they climb the political ladder. Over and over again we’ve had our leaders in Texas not only give credence to violent depictions of our border communities, but also stoke the flames of fear about the border region by exaggerating crime statistics, suggesting terrorism cells are active in the region, and by drawing comparisons to corruption in Third World countries.

We can’t possibly have the best Texas if our own leaders continue denigrating such a vital part of our state. Texas should invest money to market our border region. We have a lot to be proud of. Our southern border is an economic engine for nation and it boasts some of the safest cities in the country. Our border is home to some of the busiest inland ports in the country; thousands of small businesses propel Texas’ economy and most importantly it is home to great people.

From El Paso to Laredo to McAllen and Brownsville, border communities have made significant contributions to the rest of the state — just look at a list of business owners, philanthropists, and educators who call the border home. University of Texas Chancellor and renowned surgeon, Dr. Francisco Cigarroa, who hails from Laredo, has made it his mission to make higher education more accessible and affordable to students. Native El Pasoan philanthropist Woody Hunt and his wife, Gayle, have transformed higher education programs in our state by donating millions to Texas Tech University, the University of Texas at El Paso and the YWCA. In the Rio Grande Valley, Alonzo Cantu has built one of the largest hospitals of its kind in Texas, and the nation, to improve healthcare delivery.

In Mr. Ahlenius’ comments, I was encouraged to see leaders in our border communities speak up against negative images that have saturated the national news and are being reinforced by some of our leaders. I agree that enough is enough. His comments should be a rallying call for other chambers of commerce and local leaders across the border to keep state leaders accountable. In Texas, we can’t have leaders and politicians who make up fantasies at the expense of our communities.

I applaud Mr. Ahlenius’ leadership in beating back the smear campaign about our border region. It is time that our state leaders stop attacking the border communities and start investing in the region so we can all live in an even greater state of Texas.

Joaquin Castro is U.S. Representative for the 20th congressional district in Texas. A Democrat, he hails from San Antonio, Texas.