MCALLEN, RGV – What is McAllen’s message going to be if the Department of Homeland Security or the U.S. Military closes one the city’s two international bridges due to the arrival of a caravan of migrants?
That was the question Ricky Longoria, a partner with Burton McCumber & Longoria LLP, asked at a McAllen Economic Development Corporation meeting on Thursday. Longoria is a board member of McAllen EDC.
Longoria spoke in the Any Other Business portion of the meeting. He said he has been in meetings recently where the safety of schools located near an international port of entry came up. Safety of the children is paramount, he said.
Longoria noted comments from President Trump that U.S. military sent to the southern border would “fight back” if immigrants throw stones. Trump suggested soldiers might open fire on migrants because there’s “not much difference” between a rock or gun.
Longoria said he has concerns about the economic impact of an international bridge being closed.
“They (Customs and Border Protection) have been asked, do you have plans to close the ports of entry. The answer is they are ready to do that. They will erect double containers and concertina wire on top at the bridges. What do we do about that? Planning is all about the ‘What Ifs’,” Longoria said.
Longoria said the last time there was a surge of migrants arriving at the South Texas border, the Rio Grande Valley showed its “humanitarian” side. “What is our message going to be this time? We have to start thinking about this,” he said.
McAllen has two international bridges, Hidalgo-McAllen, which handles passenger vehicles and pedestrians, and Anzalduas, which mostly handles truck traffic.
Architect Laura Warren, who chairs McAllen EDC, responded to Longoria’s concerns, but in her personal capacity.
“We have empathy with people in need. There are good and bad people everywhere. They (the migrants) are not coming carrying bayonets and guns. We are not at war. I do hope they do not close the borders. We are highly dependent on trade,” Warren said.
Jamie Sepulveda, executive vice president of McAllen EDC, said the City of McAllen would take the lead in putting out a message about the caravan and any potential closing of an international bridge.
“Right now, closing the bridge would be the absolutely last resort. CBP does not believe that will be necessary, however, they do have a contingency plan if that occurs,” said McAllen City Manager Roel “Roy” Rodriguez, in a statement issued Nov. 7.
“Obviously, for the City of McAllen it is of monumental importance that the bridges remain open for commercial traffic and activity; however, CBP is our partner and we will work with them on this contingency.”
Enrique Castro is president of INDEX Reynosa, a trade association for the maquiladora industry. Castro participated in the conversation about a possible closure of international bridges at the McAllen EDC meeting. He said the subject came up at an INDEX Reynosa manager’s meeting on Wednesday.
“There is always a possibility (of the international bridges being closed). This is a bizarre world. Whenever we say something will not happen, it happens,” Castro said.
“But, I do not think any bridge will close. There is too much at stake. I think a lot of what we saw and heard over the last few months was related to the mid-term elections. With the elections over, that will diminish.”
Castro said the maquila association had held meetings with several security advisers who are in communication with the federal police, the military, and the navy in Mexico, along with the FBI, Interpol, and CBP.
“The sense is nothing is going to happen (with regard to the international bridges being closed). A message of calm and tranquility, that is how are handling it,” Castro said.
Besides, Castro said, many migrants have already crossed the Rio Grande without an major incidents.
“Last week there was that simulation exercise (by the U.S. military) at the (Hidalgo) bridge. But, the federal police (in Mexico) told us that four hours before, 800 people crossed about three miles from where the exercise took place. What was the point of that display of force? It was more about showtime.”
Banker Ama Ortega-Johnson, a member of the McAllen EDC board urged the group to keep in touch with the Mexican Consulate’s Office in McAllen.
The Rio Grande Guardian interviewed Longoria, the MEDC board member who had initiated the conversation, after the board meeting had ended.
“We value our business community, both in Reynosa and in McAllen and we as a region need to be prepared for our bridges being closed,” Longoria said.
“Things seem to be so crazy these days that the ‘What Ifs’ are very wide. I know some schools are having discussions. What do you do about a school that is located near a port of entry? That is a safety concern. But, there are economic concerns too. The rhetoric is not good. Hopefully, if they (the migrants) come to our border region it will be peaceful.”
Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above story shows soldiers from the 97th Military Police Brigade, and 41st Engineering Company, Fort Riley, Kan., working alongside U.S. Customs and Border Protection on Nov. 2, 2018, at the Hidalgo, Texas, port of entry, applying 300 meters of concertina wire along the Mexico border in support of Operation Faithful Patriot. (Photo: Señor Airman Alexandra Minor/Air Force)