MCALLEN, RGV – McAllen Mayor Jim Darling says he supports efforts to have a large delegation of border mayors, from the U.S. and Mexico, visit Washington, D.C., to tell the border region’s story.
The visit is needed, Darling said, because the border region’s message is not being heard loudly enough in the nation’s capital, or indeed in the interior of the United States.
“Everybody says the same thing, we do not get to tell our story. The vast majority of visitors who come to McAllen says, ‘wow, I am really surprised. It is pretty neat down here.’ And, I am not just talking about McAllen, I am talking about the region,” Darling said, in an exclusive interview with the Rio Grande Guardian and RGV Public Radio 88 FM.
Asked for an example of misconceptions, Darling pointed to the time he took visiting U.S. senators to Anzalduas Park, which is right next to the Rio Grande. A senator looked across the river and pointed to a park with families enjoying a day out. “He asked if that was part of Anzalduas Park and I said no, that is Mexico.”
Darling made his comments after participating in the 7th Annual U.S.-Mexico Border Mayors Summit, held in San Antonio last Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Darling attended the same event in 2017, which was held in San Diego. He said border mayors would like to have next year’s event in Mexico. His suggestion is that McAllen and Reynosa jointly host the summit in 2019.
“It was a good conference. I would like to bring it to McAllen next year, with Reynosa’s participation, with Mayor Maki Ortiz helping us host it. It is a two day event so we could have one day in Reynosa and one in McAllen. Hopefully, if we hold it in Reynosa, we would get more Mexican mayors participating.”
The binational summit brought together more than two dozen border mayors to collaborate on topics that affect border communities and to foster communication between border regions. Topics discussed included:
- The Current State of U.S.-Mexico Relations
- U.S.-Mexico Trade: The Border Perspective
- Transportation Networks and Border Crossings
- Impacts of Immigration in Border Communities
“The San Diego-Tijuana partnership demonstrates how diplomacy is done in the 21st century: people-to-people, community-to-community, making strategic investments in infrastructure and trade to create opportunity for all,” said San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg said. “San Antonio is proud to be hosting the U.S.-Mexico Border Mayors Summit for the first time outside the official border region, and especially during our city’s tri-centennial celebration.”
Asked why it is important for border mayors to get together, Mayor Darling said:
“To share information so that when we go to Washington we are all singing the same tune. All of the cities go to D.C. independently. It would be nice of they went up as one. Just like we do with the Rio Grande Valley Partnership’s RGV to DC trip. We have about 28 mayors in the border mayors association. If you went up with 28 mayors, knocking on all the doors, that would be powerful.”
For that to happen, the border mayors group would need to secure more funding, Darling acknowledged.
“That is the goal, to raise more money. We talked about being affiliated with the Border Trade Alliance. The BTA is on the northern and southern borders. They have a lot of the same issues and they have full-time paid people. The border mayors have relied a lot on the University of San Diego to do all the work. I thought that was a good idea (to work more closely with BTA) because we are very much aligned on the issues.”
The great thing about the BTA, Darling said, is that the group lobbies for all its members. “They are good at getting you appointments but they do not pick one project over another. That is very refreshing. We want one voice in Washington, not a particular city’s voice. It makes us more viable.”
Asked how the U.S.-Mexico Border Mayors Summit in San Antonio went, Darling said: “It was a good exchange. I like the fact that it has the Mexican border cities and the United States border cities. The mayor of San Antonio, Ron Nirenberg hosted us. He is a good guy.”
Asked how many other Valley mayors were in attendance, Darling mentioned one, Mission’s Armando O’Caña. “We have to recruit one other mayor each for next year, Mayor O’Cana and I. You do not have to own a bridge or be on the river to be a member of the association. All border cities are welcome.”
UC San Diego
The Center for U.S.-Mexican Studies is based at UC San Diego’s School of Global Policy and Strategy (GPS) and is a policy research institute. Since 1979, it has been a go-to source for serious academic research on Mexico and U.S.-Mexico relations, informing the creation, implementation and evaluation of public policy. The border mayors summit sprung out of the university’s efforts to improve U.S.-Mexico relations.
The Border Mayors Association is currently chaired by the Honorable Kevin Faulconer, mayor of San Diego, and the Honorable Juan Manuel Gastelum, mayor of Tijuana.
“Border cities in Mexico and the U.S. are closely linked by a common economy, environment and shared community. This is an important time for our region to come together to illustrate the dynamic economic opportunities of the cross-border economy to those in our federal capitols. Binational collaboration through trade, infrastructure and open dialogue has the potential to benefit millions of people on both sides of the border, significantly boosting the economies of both countries,” was the message listed on the summit’s website.
The keynoted address at the summit was on the subject of U.S.-Mexico Relations. It was delivered jointly by Mexico’s former ambassador to the United States, Arturo Sarukhan, and the former U.S. ambassador to Mexico, Tony Wayne.
“NAFTA was the big issue discussed at the summit,” Mayor Darling said. “There are a lot of positives. It looks like NAFTA 2.0 is going to go ahead. But, I believe it has to have Canada. Forget about the practicality of it, to get it through Congress it will have to have Canada. The president has his way of negotiating and far be it from me to say he cannot pull it off.”
Darling said he was pleased the renegotiations have included some provisions that help Mexico. “With what the new president (Andrés Manuel López Obrador) has said, what he is going to do on the border, it is going to be a good time for the border region. NAFTA is going to help labor over there. The new tax rates will give Mexican residents more income to spend more money. I am very optimistic.”
Members of the Border Mayors Association signed two formal resolutions, pledging support for international trade and continued funding for border infrastructure programs.
The resolution on trade and cross-border infrastructure specifically calls for enhancing the legal flow of goods, services and people; supporting the modernization of NAFTA; establishing a trilateral agreement between the U.S., Mexico and Canada; and engaging federal leaders about the importance of cross-border and inter-agency coordination.
Here are links to the Resolution on Trade and Cross-Border Infrastructure, in English and Spanish:
The North American Development Bank (NADB) was established in 1994 to enhance the quality of life for people living along the U.S.-Mexico border with cleaner water, air and land. The Border Mayors Association signed a resolution urging federal leaders to restore funding for the U.S.-Mexico Border Water Infrastructure Program in the Fiscal Year 2019 budget process.
Here are links to the Resolution on North American Development Bank (NADB), in English and Spanish:
“By working together, this group of mayors plays a critical role in building bridges between our two countries and showing how collaboration can lead to economic prosperity for the border region,” Mayor Faulconer said. “We’ve come together with a collective voice to call on our federal leaders to invest more in border infrastructure and modernize trade regulations as we work at growing the competitive advantage we have as border cities.”
Mayor Gastelum said the resolutions between the 25 participating mayors solidifies their commitment to work together to continue building economic ties between the United States and Mexico.
“The joint efforts between bordering cities in Mexico and the United States is of vital impotence. Together we can strengthen social and economic development for our region. Especially on issues of border security and infrastructure, as this benefits citizens on both sides of the border,” Gastelum said. “This 7th meeting is representative of our continued efforts to our commitment of working together with federal leaders from both countries on the importance of supporting the policies outlining the needs of our bordering cities.”