RIO GRANDE CITY, RGV – According to Congressman Henry Cuellar, many of the ideas President Trump has for the border region will not make it into statute.
Along with Starr County Industrial Foundation, Cuellar hosted a Border Security Roundtable at South Texas College’s Starr County Campus in Rio Grande City on Monday.
Border Patrol RGV Sector Chief Manuel Padilla spoke at the event, as did numerous elected officials and business leaders from Starr County, including Starr County Judge Eloy Vela, Rio Grande City Mayor Joel Villarreal and Roma Mayor Roberto ‘Bobby’ Salinas.
“As you know, he (Trump) wanted to get rid of NAFTA and I think we are going to modernize NAFTA and not get rid of it as he said it. He wanted a wall, he’s not gonna get that. He’s going to lose on that. He’s also gonna lose on the Border Adjustment Tax,” Cuellar told the Rio Grande Guardian, as he left to go to his next engagement.
“He’s gonna run into the chainsaw, called the U.S. Congress, where you gotta sit down and work things out. He’s not going to win on those promises. He’s not gonna find a lot of help.”
Cuellar noted that Trump has changed his mind about China and Russia.
Private landowners and businessmen were also in attendance, including, from Starr County Industrial Foundation, its executive director Rose Benavidez, board chair and land owner Sam Vale, board member and Rio Motors owner Billy Canales, and vice chair Richard Gutierrez.
“The purpose of this is to have an input from the community, and look into a gap analysis to see what the Border Patrol needs to look at, and make sure politicians are making the right decision in Washington,” Cuellar said.
During and after the roundtable, local stakeholders expressed concern about a border wall being built in Starr County. Mayor Salinas of Roma said: “We all are in favor of border security, it’s important and we do need it, but a wall is not the answer for us.” Salinas said he feared for his city’s tourist industry if a border wall is built. “There are also property owners who are along the river and those people have concerns as well. We have urban areas close to the river,” Salinas said.
In fact, if the Department of Homeland Security resurrects its plans from ten years ago, a border wall in Roma would cut adrift Roma City Hall. It would be stranded on the south side of the border wall. A leader in the city joked privately with the Rio Grande Guardian that if the wall goes up, Roma leaders should rent their city hall to Miguel Aleman, the city just across the Rio Grande, to make a point to Trump and the nation.
One of the Roma property owners who will be affected by a border wall is Noel Benavides. His land would be split in two if a wall is built.
“I think a virtual wall would be more effective. There are already sensors and cameras that you can’t see, but that are there,” Benavides told the Rio Grande Guardian. “Definitely I will lose more land (if a wall is built) but I don’t think they will have a budget.”
A wall would also affect the migration of wildlife, cattle, and some birding centers.
A participant at the roundtable discussion told the Rio Grande Guardian that Rio Grande City would also be negatively impacted by a border wall, with the Fort Ringgold middle and elementary school campus grounds cut in two.
It was Padilla, from the Border Patrol, who mentioned the importance of having direct input from local residents.
“We have lessons learned from the past. If we are planning a strategy 70 miles away from the border, that just won’t work. The border security operation has to be right on the border,” Padilla said.
So far, on the U.S. southern border there are 653 miles of fencing. Congressman Cuellar said meetings like the one in Rio Grande City can help to decide what’s best for each area.
“The question is, can you handle that (border security) by (more) personnel? Can you handle that through technology? And if not, then there has to be some strategical tactical structure,” he said. “A lot of this is going to depend on what Congress appropriates, if that will cover a fence – not a wall. In the Congress, we want to find ways to secure the border, but we do know there are different ways to do so.”
As a last statement, Cuellar was clear about what’s going to happen next in the Congress.
“We won’t be giving a bank check to the President, and that’s something that I am saying as a Democrat, but there are many Republicans who support that thinking,” Cuellar added.
Editor’s Note: This is the first in a three-part series on Starr County Industrial Foundation’s roundtable discussion on border security. Parts Two and Three will be published later this week.