MCALLEN, RGV – McAllen City Commissioners passed a resolution Monday in opposition to one of President Trump’s top issues – border wall.
The vote was not unanimous, however. Commission Omar Quintanilla abstained. He explained his position in an interview with the Rio Grande Guardian:
“I was for part of the resolution. I was for opposing a border wall cutting through environmentally sensitive areas like Bentsen State Park and Santa Ana Wildlife Refuge. We definitely don’t need to be cutting those areas in half. Not only are they environmentally sensitive areas but there are economic implications, eco-tourism and such.
“But, there were parts of the resolution I did not feel comfortable with. Such as opposing any new construction, any new border walls. That is an issue that is best left up to the federal government to decide. I don’t think it is for cities to be advocating for or against.”
Quintanilla said a blanket resolution against a border wall could hamper McAllen’s ability to influence key decision makers in Washington, D.C.
“It seems like it is going to happen. I would rather focus on areas that we can target, that we can possibly influence and not have the federal government try to build a wall through environmentally sensitive areas,” he said.
McAllen Mayor Jim Darling said it is important that other parts of the country understand McAllen’s stance on the border wall.
“Now it has come up for funding it is a real thing, as opposed to a campaign issue. When you talk about it cutting across Santa Ana Wildlife Refuge, Bentsen State Park, isolated communities south of the wall, that is a serious thing,” Darling told the Rio Grande Guardian.
“We live on the border, we ought to let people know officially how we feel. Other people protest in other parts of the country. We live on the border, we should comment. I don’t think people up north understand we do not want our parks separated in half, or that our property owners are separated behind a wall.”
Darling said anti-Mexican rhetoric, such as President Trump’s claim that Mexico will pay for a border wall, has cost McAllen and neighboring cities investment and jobs.
“People talk about lost jobs because of Mexico. We have lost jobs because of plain, old, rhetoric. We have lost jobs in retail, in the service industry. I think it is important we do something as a city. We support a safe border but there are better alternatives to a wall, things that make more sense,” Darling said.
“Telling Mexico that you are going to pay for it (a border wall), I understand how that causes resentment. Those of us who live on the border are the victims of that resentment.”
Asked what will happen to the resolution, Darling said it would be sent to the Rio Grande Valley’s congressional delegation.
“Senator Cornyn is not supportive of a wall all along the border. We want to send a message we support him. Senator Cornyn and our congressmen really understand our issues. We do not want to offend our allies. Maybe they can use us to support their work in Washington,” Darling said.
“The important message we need to send is, we need to build on our relationship with Mexico. Our relationship with our neighbors is unique in the world and we need it to be positive, not negative.”
Most people in the audience cheered when the resolution was passed. One person who did not cheer, however, was McAllen resident Dave Asher. Afterwards he explained why.
“A border wall and inclusiveness are not mutually exclusive. There are good hearted, well-intentioned people who also support a border wall. Personally, I am a bit ambivalent about it but for this commission to continually respond to a very vocal minority is inappropriate,” Asher said.
“And, I could not disagree more with the former mayor (Richard Cortez) about the need for urgency. To have a noon meeting on the first day back after a holiday weekend could be inferred as this commission not wanting the public’s participation.”
Asher said he was not alone in his criticism of the city commission.
“I am not alone. Just look at the elections. People are sick and tired they do not even vote. I am not here to get on camera. I just want to participate. How do we speak our mind when there is no public debate?”
Amanda Salas, a McAllen resident and Democratic Party activist, said she was ecstatic with the border wall resolution’s passage.
“I am really glad the commission took account of the public’s reaction to that third clause. That clause was problematic for us. We do not want loopholes in this resolution,” Salas said.
The clause Salas was referring to might have given the impressed that the City of McAllen supported levee-walls. It was removed during the meeting.
“We have already been told the levees have been repaired. If we left the third clause in there that would have been a loophole for the Administration to exploit,” Salas said.
Salas pointed that earlier in the year, Hidalgo County Judge Ramon Garcia and Mayor Darling had written to the Department of Homeland Security to say reparation of levee-walls would be okay.
“I believe they did this on behalf of Dannenbaum Engineering. It was important to show Washington, D.C., and companies like Dannenbaum that we the community are not for them coming in and exploiting us for their personal gain,” Salas said.
“Overall, I am pleased because we were expecting this resolution to come up on Sept. 11. But, Congress is going back soon so we wanted it passed sooner. It took just under a month to get them to pass this so that is a good response. A good reaction.”
Six other Valley cities are expected to support anti-border wall resolutions today. The others are Edinburg, Pharr, San Juan, Alamo, Palmview and Sullivan City. Salas said the resolutions are a clear indication of the mood of the Valley.
“Valley residents are coming out in great waves, conservatives and liberals alike. Our message is, we do not want major structures coming between us and Mexico.”