SOUTH PADRE ISLAND, RGV – State Rep. Eddie Lucio, III, says the conversation about setting up southbound inspections for vehicles heading into Mexico must continue despite actions taken in the recent legislative session.

Supporters of such inspections thought they had made a significant breakthrough early in the session, when a major border security bill included a provision to get the Department of Public Safety to do check southbound vehicles for cash and guns.

State Rep. Eddie Lucio, III.
State Rep. Eddie Lucio, III.

However, under pressure from border trade groups who were concerned about longer wait times at international bridges the provision was removed from a bill authored by state Rep. Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton.

In the final version of Bonnen’s bill, the language on southbound inspections was limited to support for federal initiatives. This did not please Lucio, a Democrat from San Benito.

“Essentially the language got watered down and it became a message to the federal government that should they choose to establish southbound checkpoints, within their jurisdiction, which is right at the border crossing, Texas will cooperate and provide manpower to assist them,” Lucio said.

“I have gone on the record as saying southbound checkpoints are crucial to securing the border. I was on a panel with some Mexican officials and I was being very critical of their lack of effort to secure the border and allowing drugs to come north and they looked at me and said, ‘well, where do you think the guns are coming from? If you would not send guns and money south the criminals would not be sending drugs north’.”

Lucio made his comments at a legislative panel discussion hosted by the Texas Border Coalition on South Padre Island. Also on the panel were state Reps. René Oliveira, D-Brownsville, Ryan Guillen, D-Rio Grande City, and Armando Martinez, D-Weslaco. The discussion took place before the escape from prison of drug lord Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzmán.

Lucio said the remarks of the Mexican officials “kind of took me aback.” He said he then started to give the idea of southbound inspections a lot more thought.

“When they said that, I started to realize that this needs to be a multi-pronged approach. If we really want to do something meaningful to combat the violence and cartel growth in Mexico we are going to have to cut off their revenue stream and that is guns and money going south,” Lucio said.

Lucio said he did get some push back from border leaders.

“There was a lot of concern coming from some of your (TBC) membership and folks from El Paso, that if we are going to do southbound checkpoints, how are they going to be established, where are they going to be located. Are they going to create issues with southbound travel that affects commerce just like wait times coming north affects commerce. I understand that. There are various factors to be considered when doing something like this but I think this conversation needs to continue.”

Lucio said he does not know what the federal government plans to do about southbound checkpoints. “But again, to have any border security and to go back to the days where you could go to Matamoros and Reynosa carefree and have dinner with your family, like I did growing up, we are going to have to do our part and I think that (southbound inspections) is part of it.”

Interviewed later by the Rio Grande Guardian, Lucio said he looked at southbound inspections in a whole new light after a panel discussion with Mexican officials at UT-Brownsville. “It was back in the late 2000s. It made me understand that we contribute to the issue (of cartel violence in Mexico). We are a part in the problem Mexico is facing today. We create the demand for that product (drugs) and we support that product by the commodities we send south, the cash and guns. Until we can cut that streamline down it is going to continue to persist.”

State Rep. Ryan Guillen
State Rep. Ryan Guillen

The other legislator to answer the question about southbound inspections at the TBC event was Rep. Guillen. He said the issue was debated in some depth during the 84th Legislature.

“I do not have a problem with southbound checkpoints but my big concern – and we did get some language in the House that was then stripped in the Senate – was that, kind of like the addition we are having with the border surge, where you put all of your eggs into one basket, when they put a southbound checkpoint at Rio Grande City and nowhere else that kills our traffic going south, and bankrupts our local ports,” Guillen said.

“The money made at the ports is made outbound, not inbound, and so when you pay the toll when you go to Mexico is the toll that stays here. The toll that you pay coming here is the toll that stays over there. And so, that is the one thing I want to avoid, to make sure… (If you put southbound inspections at) two or three ports and everybody then goes to the other ones. At the end the language (in Rep. Bonnen’s legislation) basically said we are going to assist the feds with the outbound checkpoints that they want. I thought that was fine. We just need to continue to monitor it.”

Editor’s Note: The main photo accompanying this story shows vehicles heading south to Mexico on the Hidalgo-Reynosa International Bridge.

Editor’s Note: This is the third in a three-part series on border security. Click here to read Part One and here to read Part Two.