BROWNSVILLE, RGV – With talk of shutting down land ports of entry being added to ugly rhetoric about immigrants from Mexico, communities along the border will soon find out who their friends are in Washington, D.C., and Austin.
This is the view of Brownsville Mayor Tony Martinez.
In an interview with reporters, Martinez said closing international bridges along the U.S.-Mexico border would be a “disaster of major proportions.” President Trump says he will close them unless Mexico stops asylum seekers from Central America entering the United States.
Martinez said he has been in touch with Laredo Mayor Pete Saenz to discuss how the border region should react. Saenz is chairman of the Texas Border Coalition.
“If you look at the economic impact (of closing ports of entry), we all know the amount of trucks that cross our bridges, bringing a lot of product over from Mexico. We have a lot of products that are made for the automotive industry that cross on a daily basis,” Martinez said.
“We have a lot of people that live in Brownsville and work in Matamoros and vice versa. We have a lot of students that come from Mexico to study on this side of the border. Closing the border would be a disaster of major proportions.”
Martinez said he doubts that President Trump has consulted with anyone living on the border.
“I do not know what he will do but I would not put anything past him. Quite frankly, let’s figure out who we can reach out to, because if people like Dan Patrick says that (Trump’s plan) is something we want, or the (U.S.) senators say that is something we want, where is our representation at any level, state or federal?”
Martinez said he is confident the border region will find allies in Washington and Austin.
“I don’t think everyone has the same sentiment (as President Trump), that the Rio Grande Valley is not worth protecting. Our people are worthy of every consideration and they deserve it. I certainly will fight for them.”
Martinez said there are “several alliances and several people in important administrative positions” that he and other border mayors can call on for help. “I had some visits with some folks from San Antonio last night. I made phone calls. I talked to Mayor Pete Saenz of Laredo today.”
Martinez said it is time for the border region to mobilize.
“I will not be beaten by virtue of someone who says, I want to get scared and I want to make sure I do a blanket statement, that I am going to close the whole border. Sorry, Charlie, that is not working for me. I feel very humbled that I get a chance to represent the City of Brownsville and the constituents but I am not the kind… I have been a trial lawyer for 50 years, or near thereto… if I see an injustice, by golly, we are going to fight for justice.”
Martinez’s hunch that Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick would back President Trump all the way proved correct. On Tuesday, Patrick pushed for and got an emergency resolution passed by the Texas Senate which declared a “crisis” at the Texas-Mexico border. The resolution called on Congress to fully fund border security measures.
Patrick said a massive and unprecedented influx of “illegal” immigrants are currently crossing the border. He said these included 100,000 in the past month, with estimates of one million over the past year. He said this represents a crisis that threatens the security of Texas communities.
“The Texas Senate adopted Senate Resolution 535 today to make it crystal clear to Congress that the crisis at the border is very real. This past weekend, border officials announced what was obvious to millions of Texans — the situation at the border is at the breaking point,” Patrick said.
“President Trump is right that emergency action must be taken immediately, including increasing personnel, enhancing technology and building barriers where they are needed. For those of us who live in this state with 1,254 miles of border, the fact of this emergency is not debatable. In Texas, we are calling on Congress to take immediate action to secure the border.”
Patrick’s stance differs sharply from Congressman Henry Cuellar’s. The Laredo Democrat said President Trump’s threat to shut down the border was “a grave mistake that would have disastrous consequences for our economy.”
Cuellar pointed out that $1.5 billion worth of cargo moves across Texas-Mexico ports of entry every day. “Closing our southern border would severely disrupt the flow of goods along the border, hurting both the American and Mexican economies,” Cuellar said.
Cuellar said Mexico is detaining immigrants from Central America and sending them back to their countries at the same level as previous years.
“In March alone, Mexican authorities detained 13,000 migrants and sent them back home. It is crucial we continue to work with our southern neighbor and increase collaboration in order to properly address this increased flow,” Cuellar said.
“Instead of shutting down the border, we must invest in our ports of entry, including advanced technology, increased personnel, and enhanced infrastructure. Additionally, we need to amend our broken immigration system. Smugglers and human traffickers exploit loopholes in our immigration laws that provide an incentive for migrants to put themselves in extreme danger to illegally cross our borders.”
Cuellar added: “We must start playing defense on the 20-yard line and address the root causes of mass migration, such as violence and poverty. By utilizing funding that we have helped secure to promote good governance and civil society in Central America, we can prevent these large groups of immigrants from fleeing to our southern border.”
U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, a Democrat from San Antonio who chairs the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, had a similar message to that of Cuellar. He said closing the border was a “terrible” idea.
“Closing down our border crossings would devastate Texas more than any other state. Millions of dollars in trade pass through the U.S. – Mexico border each day, and billions every year,” Castro said.
“Many U.S. companies rely on the ability to send and receive goods to and from Mexico. American workers cross the border to work at American companies in Mexico. Families who live on either side of the border cross to visit relatives. Closing the border would do nothing to solve the humanitarian situation at the border long-term. It would very likely make things worse.”
The Texas Border Coalition represents cities from El Paso to Brownsville. Laredo Mayor Saenz, who chairs the group, said:
“President Trump’s threat to close the border would be catastrophic and immediate, not just for border communities but also for the nation as a whole.
“U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan says $2 billion worth of economic activity occurs daily on the border – providing Americans with good jobs and solid wages, all of which could be lost if the border closed. If Commissioner McAleenan is right, this represents about four percent of the U.S. economy.
“Closing the border would cause an immediate depression in border state communities and, depending on the duration, a recession in the rest of the country.”
On Tuesday TBC members discussed the possibility of Congress pushing back against Trump’s threatened plan to close the border.
Blas Castaneda, a former chair of TBC’s education and workforce committee, said consultant Billy Moore and his group Vianovo are TBC’s “best hope” of putting pressure on Trump and national Republican leaders “to slow down their vicious attack on our border, and our livelihood.”
Castaneda said it could take years to recover from a shutdown of border ports of entry.
“You all need to convince our Texas Senators Cornyn and Cruz to stand firm on helping to protect our border communities while the president tries to bring improved immigration to the U.S. and our border. I have always trusted Senator Cornyn over the years to always use his leadership to do what is best for our border. I strongly believe that Senator Cruz will work with Senator Cornyn for what is best for our border.”
Responding to Castaneda, Moore gave TBC members an update on where things stand.
“House Democrats, with the leadership of our border delegation, are planning to fight a border closure should it occur. My sense is that the Senate Democrats are united against the President’s notion, as well,” Moore said.
“Yesterday, Senator Cornyn said the unintended consequences of the President’s border closure ‘would be bad for everybody.’ Sen. Ted Cruz has not addressed the issue. Other Senate Republicans, including Colorado’s Cory Gardner, oppose closing the border.”
Moore pointed out that the former chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, believes Trump is just venting his frustration. Moore said this is a view voiced by several Republicans in Congress.
“On cutting aid to Central America, McCaul said, ‘it’s going to make things tragically worse, not better.’ Thus, we have fairly united Democratic and significant Republican opposition to a border closing. We have made progress and still have a lot of work to do.”