MCALLEN, RGV – With the approval of his city commission, McAllen Mayor Jim Darling is to write to Donald Trump, inviting the incoming president of the United States to visit his city.
Darling said if such a visit took place he would implore the president not to pay for a new border wall through an increase in border crossing fees paid by Mexican visitors. Such a move, Darling said, would “kill” McAllen’s economy.
“I am going to seek city commission approval to write to him, to invite President-elect Trump down to McAllen. If he comes to McAllen he would get a true sense of what the border economy is all about,” Darling told the Rio Grande Guardian.
“We could be affected significantly by some of the changes being proposed by the new administration and they need to take this into consideration. We could be affected just as much as Michigan and we are Americans too.”
One area that could impact McAllen greatly, Darling said, is if a Trump administration makes changes to trade policies with Mexico or it goes ahead with campaign promises to build a border wall.
“We would be directly impacted, especially our position as a sales tax collector. We are the largest sales tax collector on the border, per capita. Our businesses could be affected. Our employment could be affected. In recent years, we have overcome double digit employment for the first time ever. We are an area that has experienced economic hardships for a long, long, time. I am not saying they have not suffered in Michigan and other places but we have also, for a long, long, time. We need President Trump to take that into consideration.”
In remarks to the McAllen Economic Development Council, Darling said one of the “scary” things he had heard was that a new border wall could be paid for through increased border crossing fees.
“Trump’s people were in Laredo. They want to build a wall in Laredo. We talked to CBP people and they said, ‘we do not need a wall in Laredo, there are other places.’ They were told (by Trump’s people), ‘we want to build a wall in Laredo so find a place.’ Now (there is talk) they are going to build a wall with crossing fees and all that. That would have an impact, not only on sales tax revenues but, people coming over,” Darling said.
Interviewed later, Darling was asked where the information came from that the new administration would pay for a border wall through increased border crossing fees. “I read it some place. His staff was saying, we are exploring ways of paying for the border wall. One of the things they are exploring is a raise border crossing fees,” he said.
Asked what would that would do for the McAllen economy, Darling said: “It would kill us. It would be terrible. For one thing, if you really planned a significant wall, it is miniscule what he could raise (through crossing fees) to do that. If he is not talking about a billion-dollar wall and you are talking about a million-dollar wall, then you do not need to raise border crossing fees to do it.”
Darling added that the continued weakening of the Mexican peso in relation to the U.S. dollar was having a negative impact on retail sales and tax revenues in his city. “The peso is an indirect impact that we do not control at all. Increasing bridge fees would be a direct impact.”
Asked when the letter to Trump may go out, Darling said he hopes to have it ready sometime next week.
Other elected officials around the Rio Grande Valley have also been speculating what a Trump presidency might do for the region.
State Senator Eddie Lucio, Jr.
State Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., a Democrat from Brownsville said: “The jury is going to be out for a while to see what President Trump will be doing for the first 90, 120 days of his administration. We need to see if he has changed his mind on how he approaches things.”
Lucio said he is penning a resolution to be introduced on the Senate floor related to a border wall.
“I have a resolution that I will be introducing that calls on Texas to ask President Trump not to build any kind of wall or fence between two sister cities that lie across from each other on the Texas-Mexico border. I think it would be of great benefit for us economically not to have a border wall. I cannot tell the federal government where to build that fence, if they are going to do it, but I would be very grateful if they would not build it between Brownsville and Matamoros, or between the city of Hidalgo and Reynosa.”
Lucio said other border legislators might have a similar view. He said although his resolution would focus on the Rio Grande Valley, he would entertain expanding it if other border legislators ask.
“They may not want a border wall between Laredo and Nuevo Laredo, Del Rio and Acuña, or El Paso and Ciudad Juarez,” Lucio said.
Asked why a border wall hurts a border economy, Lucio cited the example of his brother, who ran a golf course at Fort Brown, Brownsville.
“They put a fence between him and the city of Brownsville and people quit playing golf there. His business went down and my brother went down with it. It broke him economically,” Lucio said.
Harlingen Mayor Chris Boswell
Asked what a Trump presidency might mean for the Valley, Harlingen Mayor Chris Boswell said:
“It is a good question. Senator Cornyn is in a very important position in the United States Senate. He is from Texas and, more importantly, he is from San Antonio. He has always understood the importance of our relationship with Mexico. He has understood what our needs are, here on the border. He has sponsored important legislation to try to make trading with Mexico easier. He is certainly the person we will look to for leadership in Washington, D.C., on border trade issues. He is the expert and we will put our trust and faith in Senator Cornyn.”
State Rep. Eddie Lucio, III
Asked the same question, state Rep. Eddie Lucio, III, a Democrat from Harlingen, said:
“A lot of things are said during campaigns and then, once you govern and sit in the chair and people advise you that there are consequences to your decisions, rational people will adjust their course of action. We are yet to see if that is the approach President-elect Trump will take.
“Obviously, he has made some rational decisions in business, otherwise he would not have achieved the success he has. I am optimistic that once push comes to shove, that governing will be different than campaigning.”
Rep. Lucio said he is ready to work with the Trump administration.
“Our responsibility is to provide the new government with as much perspective and information as we can; and to invite and host as many of his Cabinet members and administration staff as we can in South Texas. We want to work with the president. He is the president, he deserves our respect because of it and he will have my respect. Next election season we will do what we will have to do. In the meantime, my office, at least, will be respectful of the position and do everything we can to continue to work with the administration for the betterment of our region.”