McALLEN, RGV – While others have focused on fencing and Afghanistan-type operation command centers and weaponry in their criticism of a controversial new border security bill, McAllen Mayor Jim Darling is concerned about southbound inspections.

The Secure Our Border First Act of 2015, authored by the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, Rep. Michael McCaul, requires that all persons exiting the United States into Mexico be screened. This would mean drivers and passengers having to produce their residency status documentation, just like those coming north into the United States have to.

“The exit requirement, reporting when you leave the United States, is something we are very concerned about because, it may be okay in an airport but to make people get out of a car and go and report, that is just not acceptable from the point of view of slowing down a bridge,” Darling said in an exclusive interview with the Rio Grande Guardian about McCaul’s bill. “We have seven to ten million people here illegally as it is so I do not see how inspecting southbound travel eases anything. I am against it.”

Darling gave his interview on Monday while participating in a ceremony to unveil plaques for McAllen’s first female city commissioner, Phillis Griggs, and McAllen’s first Hispanic mayor, Leo Montalvo. The day before, Darling had attended a dinner for McCaul and 21 other members of Congress held Sunday evening at The Patio on Guerra in downtown McAllen. The joint hosts were IBC Bank and the Border Trade Alliance (BTA). Earlier in the day, McCaul and his congressional colleagues held a news conference at Anzalduas Park in Mission to promote H.R. 399, otherwise known as the Secure Our Border First Act of 2015.

“We had good representation at the meeting,” Darling said. “We had Polo Palacios, the mayor of Pharr. We had the mayor of Laredo, the mayor of Eagle Pass. We had economic development leaders from Mission. We had a representative from Congressman Cuellar’s office. I just wish we had had a more bipartisan delegation from Washington. I think there were 21 Republicans and one Democrat, a lady from Queens, New York.”

In his interview, Darling did not appear as critical of McCaul’s border security legislation as other Rio Grande Valley leaders have been. He said there are good parts to it as well as bad.

“Everybody acknowledges it is not a perfect bill. A couple of things we would like to see is, instead of reimbursing the National Guard we would prefer it be DPS. We think they (the Department of Public Safety) provide more protection from a police standpoint. They are like the secondary line of defense, if you will, after Border Patrol, from a safety point of view. That makes more sense to us,” Darling said.

“I love the fact that they are going to get rid of the Carrizo cane. I guess we are going to have to talk to the IBWC first but that is fine. I would like them to get rid of the Salt Cedar too. That is a good idea. It not only impedes the flow of water but it protects the flow of illegal immigration. Hopefully, that will get done. And, they think technology is the way to go to increase efficiency. We do too. There are some positive things.”

IBWC is the International Boundary and Water Commission, a bi-national agency that looks after Rio Grande treaty obligations, among other things.

Darling said he was reassured that the visiting members of Congress understand the importance of trade with Mexico and that, with McCaul’s bill, they do not want to harm the United States’ trade with Mexico.

“I think everyone got the sense that they know what is going on in Mexico from a manufacturing standpoint, billions and billions of dollars of trade, and that you cannot manufacture an automobile here in the United States without help from Mexico. They get that,” Darling said.

Darling echoed what many Valley leaders are saying, that the real answer to border security issues is comprehensive immigration reform. He urged bipartisan consensus. “We would like to see immigration reform. It seems like one side of the aisle is saying we to have to close the borders, or protect the borders first. They just need to come together and work on a bill that makes sense,” Darling said.

Like other Valley leaders, Darling spoke by phone with Congressman Filemon Vela on Sunday. The Brownsville Democrat is leading the Valley’s opposition to McCaul’s legislation.

“I spoke to Congressman Vela on Sunday. He has reservations about the bill. It is important our local congressional delegation make sure they get our message across. There are some good points in the bill but I also think there are some things in there that they need to address, things that could harm us, whether it is intentional or not, that could harm us and the way we live our lives here on the border,” Darling said.

“I hope we do not get caught in the crossfires. We have a lot of families here from Mexico, a lot of DREAM Act kids, we need to make sure they are protected and thought of and make sure the economy of the border is protected and thought of in these bills.”

Via email, Jesse Hereford, chairman of the BTA, gave the Rio Grande Guardian a little bit of information about Sunday’s meeting with McCaul and other members of Congress. “The BTA and IBC had a private dinner with Congressman McCaul and 21 other members on the Homeland Security Committee in McAllen last night. We discussed our recommendations on how to make it trade friendly and what pieces we were concerned about especially the exit provision and fencing.”

Editor’s Note: We will have more information about the Border Trade Alliance’s position on H.R. 399 in an upcoming story.