LAREDO, Texas – Following last week’s visit by Donald Trump, Laredo city leaders say they welcome any and all presidential candidates to come and learn more about life on the Texas-Mexico border.
“Laredo is key for any candidate, whether presidential or state-wide, who wishes to discuss border issues,” said Laredo Mayor Pete Saenz.
“We will welcome any and all candidates into our community so that they can see first-hand the real border, to come to understand the role this area of the country plays in terms of international trade and security.”
Saenz said the Laredo city leaders will “not back down” from promoting their community to anyone who wishes to come to the city. “We will gladly host border tours for anyone who wishes to come to one of the safest cities in Texas. And, of course, we will proudly host debates for any party who recognizes that the Hispanic vote cannot be taken for granted this election cycle,” Saenz said.
Laredo was in the national spotlight with Trump’s visit. The billionaire developer and GOP presidential candidate was initially invited to visit Laredo by the executive board of Local 2455 of the Border Patrol Union in order to get a “real border tour.” However, just as Trump was about to board his jet to fly down from New York the invitation was rescinded.
Trump, accompanied by the national media, came down anyway and met privately for one hour with a number of city leaders, including City Manager Jesus Olivares. They did not take kindly to Trump’s derogatory remarks about Mexico or Mexicans and they took the opportunity to explain the importance of international trade, not just to their city but the entire nation.
“Donald Trump has the national spotlight and the bully pulpit, and frankly, everyone is listening to what he is saying,” Saenz said. “While I, along with many here in Laredo, disagreed very much with his position and comments, especially his characterization of Mexican immigrants and our relationship with Mexico, this was an opportunity to engage him in meaningful dialogue that could hopefully, have an impact on his rhetoric. I believe we accomplished that.”
Saenz stressed that the meeting was in no way an endorsement of Trump’s presidential campaign, but an opportunity to educate him on the border. “Trump, like so many others, is misinformed about the reality of the border,” Saenz said. “So many people beyond Laredo, even in our own state, mischaracterize the border and Laredo in particular. This was our chance to showcase the border, to showcase Laredo.”
City leaders took Trump to World Trade Bridge, one of the four international bridges owned by the City of Laredo. Saenz pointed out that Laredo is the nation’s largest inland port and the third busiest U.S. Customs District in the U.S. – behind only the water ports of L.A. and New York. Saenz said Trump appeared to be impressed by the logistical operations of the bridge, which daily sees approximately 12,000 commercial trucks cross through the port. He said Trump also seemed to be impressed by the sheer volume of U.S. trade with Mexico and how much of it goes through Laredo.
City Manager Olivares said Trump was “bombarded with statistics” regarding Laredo’s role in “driving the economic engine of the U.S. economy through trade” and the importance of Mexico as a trading partner with the United States.
Olivares was joined in his meeting with Trump by Mayor Pro Tempore Juan Narvaez and City Council Member Alex Perez, Jr. Deputy City Manager Cynthia Collazo and Assistant City Manager Horacio De Leon were also present. Laredo Bridge System was represented at the meeting by Manager Mario Maldonado, Assistant Manager Yvette Limon and Bridge Superintendent Ana Rodriguez. Narvaez said he told Trump that “Laredo feeds America.” He said he based this not only on the volume of produce and food product that cross through Laredo, but also on the fact that tens of thousands of parts and other products come through the port. Narvaez said these provide jobs for Americans throughout the country.
Mayor Saenz said it was important for Trump to learn that Laredo bears witness to a lot of legal immigration activity. This activity includes people who live in Mexico but work, shop, play, and go to school in Laredo. Saenz pointed out that Laredo is 263 years old and has seen firsthand the benefits of immigrants in the community. He said the familial, cultural, historical, business ties have built the dynamic city of Laredo. Comprehensive immigration reform is key to bringing out those undocumented immigrants throughout the United States who have already contributed much to our economy, Saenz said.
Border security was also discussed in the meeting between Laredo leaders and Trump. Saenz pointed out that Laredo is one of the safest cities in Texas. “While the Laredo Police Department does not seek out or conduct immigration enforcement, Laredo is in fact, not a sanctuary city, and in the course of other law enforcement investigations, if it is discovered that a suspect is here unlawfully, they are turned over immediately to the proper federal law enforcement agency,” the city’s public information office stated, in a news release about Trump’s visit.
City Manager Olivares said Trump asked about the viability of a border wall. City leaders present responded that the Rio Grande provides a natural barrier. “In fact, immediately after the meeting, when asked about building a border wall, Trump, to his credit, seemed to soften his position, stating that perhaps only ‘in sections; would a wall be necessary,” the city’s public information office stated. “While the City of Laredo and other Texas border communities have long fought the idea of building a border wall, to no avail; this idea is not new or exclusive to Trump.”
Instead of a border wall, city officials highlighted the presence of other border security resources, including boat patrols, air surveillance, motion sensors and the vehicle, horse, bike and foot patrols conducted by Border Patrol. City officials told Trump that such resources help deter criminal activity and undocumented immigration. “What is necessary, what is lacking is the presence of enough ‘boots on the ground,” city leaders told Trump. “The City of Laredo stressed that strong partnerships and cooperation exists between all law enforcement agencies in Laredo, including local, state and federal authorities. For Laredo, as the front door to the country, homeland security has always been hometown security,” the city’s public information office added.