MCALLEN, RGV – Two of the three congressmen that represent the Rio Grande Valley have spoken out against rhetoric that harms cross-border commerce.

U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar of Laredo and U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez of McAllen recorded video messages for a “legislative report card luncheon” hosted by the RGV Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and held at the Double Tree Suites in McAllen.

While the two lawmakers covered a range of issues, much of their focus was on U.S. trade with Mexico.

U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar

“As a lifelong border resident, I know that it is a special, dynamic place to live and work. We know its incredible potential. Sadly, the popular narrative in the media and among some of our national and state leaders does not always reflect this reality. But, I see a lot of good, real progress,” Cuellar said.

The two videos were recorded separately but the messages were almost identical: that trade with Mexico has been beneficial for the Valley, Texas and the United States.

“It is essential that we welcome our neighbors from the south of the border and assure them that it is safe to visit, work and invest here. We have recently heard rhetoric on both sides of the border that has been harmful for our cross-border commerce and affected our way of life in the Rio Grande Valley,” Gonzalez said.

U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez

“Mexico is one of our most important allies and trading partners that we can count on. They are also our neighbors. The United States has done business with Mexico for centuries and we must continue to do so. We have a relationship with Mexico that transcends the policies of any presidential administration. Because of these relationships we should continue to strive to maintain a good rapport.”

Both members of Congress spoke about the North American Free Trade Agreement, which the Trump Administration wants to renegotiate. And both noted the agreement’s importance in dollar amounts.

“I think businessmen in our area know that NAFTA is important. It is important to our local, state and national economy. Every day there is over $1.3 billion of trade between the U.S. and Mexico. That is over one million dollars of trade every single minute, every single day, every single year. So, NAFTA is important,” Cuellar said.

“We need to see Mexico as our friend and not as an enemy. If we do this we are going to see NAFTA as a program that needs a 21st Century update. That is what Senator Cornyn and I are going to do.”

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn also recorded a video message for the RGV Hispanic Chamber. However, his comments on border trade were brief.

“I am proud to support the Valley by working on legislation such as the Cross-Border Trade Enhancement Act. As Congress evaluates some of our vital trade agreements, I encourage you to keep making your voices heard,” Cornyn said.

In his video message, Gonzalez said the renegotiation of NAFTA is one of the most important issues facing the region.

“For more than two decades, businesses and communities in South Texas have truly experienced the benefits of NAFTA and as such understand the intricacies of the North American Free Trade Agreement,” Gonzalez said.

“Each year, McAllen exports $2.6 billion goods to Mexico. The 15th Congressional District of Texas is also home to the Pharr International Bridge, the busiest port of entry for produce. NAFTA is an important driver of our local economy and the various industries in my district depend on the market access afforded to them.

“Additionally, the constituents I represent, like other Americans around the country demand year-round availability of affordable fresh food, something that NAFTA and our free trade agreements guarantee them. Thanks to NAFTA and our country’s investment in our ports the communities in South Texas have flourished.”

In his video message, Cuellar said he is pleased the Trump Administration has changed its tune on NAFTA.

“The administration has announced that they are going to reopen the agreement for new negotiation. They have gone from eliminate NAFTA to now upgrading NAFTA. I agree with that and it is something some of us have been working on for many years,” Cuellar said.

“Some of you have shared your thoughts during the recent open commentary period. I will continue to represent your points of view, to the administration, to my colleagues in Congress.”

Cuellar also noted that he had sent a joint letter with Cornyn asking that the U.S. Trade Representative meet with members of Congress from the border. “Your insights and ideas for NAFTA 2.0 must be part of the renegotiation process,” Cuellar said, in reference to the business and community leaders at the RGV Hispanic Chamber event.

Cuellar also referred to the recent “RGV to DC” trip hosted by the Rio Grande Valley Partnership. Leaders from the RGV Hispanic Chamber participated on the trip. “It was a great opportunity for us to tell our own true story. What it means to be part of the Valley, what it means to be part of the border,” Cuellar said.

Cuellar also referenced the $15 million he helped secure from the National Science Foundation to develop a program focused on Hispanic Serving Institutions. He said it would showcase the talents of border students.

“Every chance I get I talk about the economic and cultural power of our neighborhoods and find ways to connect our institutions to national opportunities. Our best asset in the Rio Grande Valley is all of you. The businesses you build, the jobs you create, the products and the services you provide,” Cuellar added.

Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above story shows trucks waiting in a long queue for border customs control to cross into the U.S. at the Otay border crossing in Tijuana, Mexico, on Feb. 2, 2017. Photo: Jorge Duenes/Reuters.

Editor’s Note: The above story is the second in a four-part series featuring the RGV Hispanic Chamber of Commerce’s Legislative Report Card Luncheon. Click here for Part One, featuring state Sen. Juan Hinojosa. Part Three, featuring state Rep. Terry Canales will be published in our next edition.