MCALLEN, Texas – U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar says the ugly rhetoric President Trump directed towards Mexico a couple of years back led to a million of its citizens not visiting the United States.

As a result, the Laredo Democrat said, billions of tourism dollars were lost to the U.S. economy. He said this hurt border communities the most.

Cuellar was the special guest of McAllen Mayor Jim Darling on a TV show titled “Meeting with the Mayor” that aired on the McAllen Cable Network Spectrum Channel 1300.

Darling started the series in order to help tell the border region’s message.

“A couple of years ago Mexico had about 18 million Mexicanos who would come over to the U.S. to spend money. They were spending over $19 billion a year, from those 18 million Mexicanos,” Cuellar told Darling.

“But if somebody calls them rapists and murderers then some people are not going to show up. We saw a drop from 18 million Mexicanos to 17 million Mexicanos. When you drop by a million, that means places like McAllen and other places, like San Antonio, are going to see a drop of people going to the stores and the malls and the restaurants and the hotels. If you lose a million people coming in, that is a lot of money.”

Darling said that while President Trump has done some good things, such as bring about the new United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), the rhetoric has been harmful.

“Some of the rhetoric that went on affected McAllen directly. We are the largest sales tax collector in the State of Texas, almost every year and when that (ugly rhetoric) happened we saw a significant drop in tourism,” Darling said.

Darling’s 30-minute interview with Cuellar was also posted on YouTube. Click here to watch the show.

Border Security, Immigration a hot topic

U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar appeared on the Meeting with the Mayor series hosted by McAllen Mayor Jim Darling.

Among the topics covered by Darling and Cuellar were healthcare policy, reimbursements for humanitarian care, the federal budget and USMCA. Much time was given over to border security and immigration.

On the subject of a border wall, Cuellar asked: “Why do we always play defense on the one-yard line, called the U.s.-Mexico border? Why don’t we play defense on their 20-yard line, and work with Mexico, Guatemala and those countries?”

Cuellar said such a policy would stop undocumented immigrants from Central American long before they reach the U.S.-Mexico border.

Darling said that while money should be pumped into Central America, the United States needs to ensure it is spent wisely.

“Don’t just give them the money, make sure it goes to criminal justice and economic development,” Darling said.

Cuellar responded that when a surge of unaccompanied minors came up from Central America in 2014, he and U.S. Rep. Kay Granger of Fort Worth worked to get funding to countries like El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala.

“We started out with $750 million, I think right now it is about $530 million. We do not give them cash. We work through nonprofits and certain NGOs (non-government organizations). A lot of them are American so the cash ends up in the U.S., one way or another,” Cuellar said. “We want to make sure we provide the security but at the same time raise up their (standard of living) levels.”

Cuellar pointed out that Honduras has had some tough droughts to contend with. “The droughts have hit them very hard. If they (farming families) cannot grow crops there they look for places to go.”

Cuellar pointed out that while the United States provides $530 million to Central American countries, it gives $3.5 billion to Israel. “It is all a matter of perspective,” he said.

Darling said the United States should be concerned about Central America. “It is our hemisphere,” he said.

Cuellar agreed. He pointed out that China offered to buy or take out a 99-year lease on about 73 percent of El Salvador’s coastline.

“We have to keep an eye on Central America and South America and Latin America because it is our own back yard,” Cuellar said. “If we do not watch what is happening, we could wake up and see certain actors down there that might be working against our own best interests.”

Darling pointed out that another component to border security is the “drug habit” of many U.S. residents. He said as long as there is a demand for drugs, suppliers will try to find a way of bringing them in.

Cuellar responded: “We need to do more (about border security), we need to do more but keep in mind, it is our U.S. consumption of drugs, there are literally billions and billions of dollars of profits that we send down to Mexico and other parts of the world because of our drug consumption.”

Cuellar said many of the weapons confiscated from cartels have been found to originate in the United States.

“What happens is, drugs come in from the southern border and coastal places. What we send back is cash and guns. In fact, these weapons that go back, that the cartels use, 80 percent of these come from the United States. And about 40 percent of those guns that they take away from the drug cartels are actually from the State of Texas.”

Cuellar added: “When people say put up a wall to stop the drugs, keep in mind that most drugs come through ports of entry. Even is you put a wall, most drugs are going to come through a port of entry.”

As for federal legislation, Cuellar said Congress had appropriated more money for border security.

“We need more CBP (Customs & Border Protection) officers. We added money for 1,200 new CBP officers, we added money to hire 240 Ag (agriculture) specialists, and 200 new Border Patrol specialists, to work at immigration centers.”

As for USMCA, Cuellar said the United States-Mexico border sees $1.7 billion dollars a day in international trade, which is around a million dollars a minute.

Cuellar said he calls USMCA NAFTA 2.0. “It provides stability and predictability,” he said.

He also referenced the projections of CBP, that ports of entry along the U.S.-Mexico border area likely to see growth anywhere from three to five percent a year, thanks to USMCA.

“We need this trade between the U.S. and Mexico. If you put in Canada, we are a powerhouse across the world,” he said.

Editor’s Note: Also in the “Meeting with the Mayor” series, Mayor Darling has interviewed U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, state Sen. Eddie Lucio, state Sen. Juan Hinojosa, and state Rep. Terry Canales.