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Former Pharr City Commissioner Jimmy Garza speaks at a news conference hosted by Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush.

MCALLEN, RGV – Elected officials from South Texas say they are pleased with what they heard from presidential candidate Jeb Bush about the value he places in Mexico and its people.

Bush, a former governor of Florida who was born in Texas, held a private roundtable discussion with local elected officials and law enforcement personnel in McAllen on Monday.

Among those participating in the roundtable discussion were Mission Mayor Norberto Salinas, South Padre Island Mayor Barry Patel, state Representative J.M. Lozano, former Pharr City Commissioner Jimmy Garza, Hidalgo County Water Improvement District No. 3 President Othal Brand, Jr, and Sharyland ISD Board Member Julio Cerda.

“If anybody knows Mexico it is him. He has a lot of experience with Mexico. I feel I anybody is going to be able to help Mexico and our region it is this man. He knows about Mexico and he knows about economic development. He knows what he has to do to turn this country around. I think he will treat Mexico better than Obama,” said Mission Mayor Norberto ‘Beto’ Salinas.

“We need to protect our business partners to the south. We have a lot of people from Mexico investing in our area. This is why we have had a lot of success in Mission, being one of the fastest growing cities in the country, being able to grow as much as we have. We need to keep our friends. The immigration issue should be taken care of by Congress. This guy will be a great leader to take care of it. We can then put this issue to rest.”

In his remarks to reporters after the roundtable discussion, Bush said he had received “solid advice” from those participating.

“The consensus was there needs to be much more support for local governments to be able to do their jobs in concert with the Border Patrol. Fifty plus percent of all the apprehensions crossing our border from Brownsville to San Diego happened here in Hidalgo County. Pretty amazing. Providing support to the local government makes a lot of sense to me,” Bush said.

“Secondly, the conversation focused on how you balance the economic interest of a region like this and border security. You have to do this in a way that doesn’t make it hard for people’s livelihoods to continue to prosper and grow. This is a place where a lot of visitors come. Mayor Patel certainly made that point with South Padre so that was an important point.”

In a reference to presidential rival Donald Trump, Bush said: “I would suggest that the proposal made by another candidate of building a fence based on the common sense practices that are being applied here doesn’t work. You have to have a much deeper strategy than just building a fence. There has to be much more coordination with local and state law enforcement. There has to be more focus on a virtual fence, which I have proposed as it relates to using GPS technology, drone technology, other things like that. The Border Patrol needs to act on a strategy and stick with it. There is too much politicizing of what they are trying to do. They do good work but too much influence from Washington, D.C., to be effective.”

Bush added that a majority of people crossing the border in South Texas are not coming from Mexico but from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. “They are part of the northern triangle countries that have taken advantage of a loophole in the law, in effect, that was passed a few years ago. I think that creating a healthy deterrent effect, to be able to make sure that these particularly young kids don’t cross all the way through Mexico to come to be processed into our country is just completely appropriate. There are examples of doing it the right way where you create a healthy deterrent effect where people’s lives aren’t in jeopardy. So, I learned a lot and it validates my belief that we need to have a comprehensive strategy to deal with border security, unique to the circumstances of each region that is impacted by this.”

Mayor Salinas said he wanted to dispel a myth perpetrated by the national media that the border region was lawless and insecure.

“Governor Bush wanted to know how the security was and I said it was fine. I think we have a safe community in the Valley. We have a lot of DPS troopers, more than enough. If you go along the expressway to Roma you will see 100 of them every day, between Mission and Rio Grande City. We also have a lot of Border Patrol and they are doing a great job, along with our own police forces in the county. Our city goes all the way down to the river. We have a good safe community. I know everyone is talking about the illegals but we have never been this well off for security,” Salinas said.

Salinas is supporting former Texas Governor Rick Perry for president of the United States. However, he said if Perry pulls out he will switch his allegiance to Bush.

Brand, the president of Hidalgo County Water Improvement District No. 3, said Bush “gets it” when it comes to the importance of Mexico to the Valley economy, to the Texas economy and to the U.S. economy. Mexico is, after all, U.S.’s third largest trading partner.

“Governor Bush was very receptive to everything we had to say. He acted like a sponge, he really soaked it all up. It was not a back and forth debate over which was the right solution. It was just, tell me what you think the solutions are and he got that from the state, city, county perspective. I was very impressed with the caliber of the people present, we had a great cross section of leaders. I was invited to come and express our concerns. I did that. Whoever put this together did a great job getting a good cross section of folks from every government level,” Brand said.

Asked if he would be supporting Bush for president, Brand said he was in Rick Perry’s camp. “I love the Bushes. They are a great family. They have dedicated their lives to public service, three generations. In our family it was very much a challenge when Rick Perry and Kay Bailey (Hutchison) ran against each other. Oh my God, it ripped us up. Right now it is the same feeling. They (the GOP) have got so many good people who we know and love running that it makes hard. I am not counting Perry out yet.”

Lozano, the state representative from Kingsville, is backing Bush for president. Lozano said the roundtable discussion was substantive and illuminating.

“I was just in awe of the substance behind all the discussions we had. It is tremendous to see that because on the TV I have been seeing soundbites and rhetoric that is dumbed down. The specifics Governor Bush provides are a breath of fresh air,” Lozano said.

“Every question he asked of people on that roundtable, he was laser focused. He was engaged, with questions for those participating. To see that from a man that might be our next president is incredible. I was asked at the last minute to come and I said, absolutely. I am a good friend of George P. As soon as he announced I knew he was the man I want to see as our next president.”

George P. Bush is Jeb Bush’s son and land commissioner of Texas.

Asked if Bush understands the importance of Mexico to the U.S., both in terms of economic and cultural influence, Lozano said: “Absolutely. He understands the importance of having immigration on the border to weed out the bad guys. As a business owner in South Texas and having family here in this county, nobody wants criminals living amongst us. People that have committed rapes and murder. No one wants that. But then there are people that come here that genuinely want to work. They want to provide for their family and they would be upstanding community members, given the chance. He understands that too.”

Former Pharr Commissioner Garza is backing Bush for president. He said it was important Bush came to the Valley so that he could hear directly from elected officials that represent border communities.

“The main thing was getting him a true perspective on what is really going on, on the border. Don’t go based off rhetoric, don’t go based off what you hear. Let’s meet with true elected officials who can give you an honest, local, perspective. And he did that. He heard great stories from officials from throughout the Valley and they gave him their perspective on what they see every day,” Garza said.

Asked if Bush understands the importance of Mexico, Garza said: “Absolutely. He is the only candidate that is uniquely positioned. He is not the only one who is bilingual – there is another bilingual candidate in the race. But, he is bicultural. He understands the region and he understands that the Valley is not the back door to this country. In fact, it is the front door. I am very proud to support someone who has that perspective.”

Editor’s Note: The Rio Grande Guardian has an undocumented immigrant research project underway with Hidalgo County Water Improvement District No. 3.