MISSION, RGV – When Mexico succeeds, the United States succeeds and vice versa, says U.S. Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke.

The El Paso Democrat was in the Rio Grande Valley over the weekend, with town hall meetings in San Benito, Weslaco and Mission on Saturday and a fun run in McAllen on Sunday.

At each of the three town hall meetings, O’Rourke, currently a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, gave a lot of time for questions from, the audience. At the one in Mission, held at the chamber of commerce offices, businesswoman Norma Ramirez said not enough media coverage was being given to the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Norma Ramirez

“It is really important that we renew the NAFTA agreement. People are not paying attention to what is happening right now and the amount of businesses that will be affected by the negative (rhetoric) we have heard from the (Trump) administration,” Ramirez said.

“What is troubling me is that nobody is really paying attention to the impact Hidalgo County could have. How do we get people to pay more attention to this huge (import-export) industry?

O’Rourke replied that the counties of El Paso, Webb and Hidalgo are economic engines for Texas and the nation because they handle hundreds of billions of dollars in U.S.-Mexico trade. Six million jobs across the United States are connected to U.S.-Mexico trade depend on that,” O’Rourke said.

“When we import from Mexico, about 40 percent of the value of what we import from that country was actually created in the United States, on the factory floors in Ohio, in Michigan, in Texas. We create things and we send (those products) to Mexico. They are then assembled or have value added to and are brought back across this border. When you look at China and other countries with whom we trade, two percent or three percent, or four percent.”

Because the U.S. also sells a lot of product to Mexico, the nation wins whether it buys or sells, O’Rourke claimed.

“We are also creating jobs and economic growth. If we were to lose NAFTA, which the President seems intend upon doing, we are going to lose so much of the economy. We can improve it for sure and I’ve got a lot of ideas on how we do that.”

An area where NAFTA could be improved, O’Rourke argued, is working conditions and pay rates for maquiladora workers in Mexico.

“I think about the maquiladora workers in Ciudad Juarez who are living below subsistence right now, are not being paid enough in those factories because they don’t have the rights to unionize and to bargain and to use their value as leverage to exact better wages and working conditions,” O’Rourke said.

“We need to make sure the people of Ciudad Juarez and every single Mexican frontier border town are earning at a level that benefits them. Yes, it benefits them but it also benefits us because their purchase power here in this community and throughout the State of Texas is all the greater.”

O’Rourke finished his response to Ramirez said this remark: “We want Mexico to succeed because when Mexico succeeds, the United States succeeds, and vice versa. So, if we are going to amend NAFTA, let’s make sure there are real workers’ rights.”

After the town hall meeting, the Rio Grande Guardian interviewed Ramirez. She is the owner of Sunny Produce & Brokerage of McAllen, an importer of fresh produce from Mexico that was started in 2010 and hires 27 workers.

“We hear NAFTA on national TV but we don’t hear it on local TV. We don’t have any of our local candidates or politicians, commissioners or mayors talking about it. It bothers me that no one is trying to understand that issue because the impact is enormous,” Ramirez said in her interview.

“I warn the people of the Valley, if the renegotiation of NAFTA is not handled properly, it could cause enormous devastation to our economy. I don’t believe the Trump administration has been able to handle anything properly.”

Ramirez said she agreed with O’Rourke that there are parts of NAFTA that could be looked at again. “Times change economies change, and so some of the things we started, we may have to change. But not shut the whole agreement down.”

Ramirez added: “Our economies, Mexico and the Valley, Mexico and Texas, Mexico and the U.S., are so intertwined, and that is a good thing.”

Before the town hall meeting in Mission, O’Rourke took two questions from the Rio Grande Guardian. One was about his campaign not accepting donations from political action committees and the other was about the importance of voters along the Texas-Mexico border.

On not accepting campaign donations from PACs, O’Rourke said:

“The best possible focus group one could have are the people of Texas, the people I want to serve. Coming to Mission, being in Weslaco, being in San Benito earlier today, and just listening, that is what it is all about. From that I learned about healthcare, making sure that everyone can see a doctor; making sure that we have access to great education, making sure everyone’s voice is heard, and that everyone’s vote counts in the most gerrymandered state in the union.

“Those ideas, from the real people of the state, are really powerful. They have more strength than the opinion of any focus group or consultant or poll we can conduct.”

One the subject of the border region’s voice counting, O’Rourke said:

“This is, for me, where everything starts. When we think about immigration, which has been in our national consciousness since Ellis Island, really it is McAllen, it’s Harlingen, it’s Mission, it’s Brownsville, it’s Eagle Pass, it’s El Paso. We were the first place that hundreds of thousands and now millions of people saw when they came into the United States and it was by being in these communities that made our country so much stronger and richer for their presence. Our contribution to the rest of the country is enormous. I don’t think it is fully accounted for when we have conversations about the border. We center on security and walls and immigration being a problem instead of an opportunity. So, I am really proud of the border and to be from the border and to represent part of the border and very proud that it is the border leading the way in this campaign.”