LAREDO, Texas – As a strong believer that the only way to fully understand and learn about the southwest border region is to visit it, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn invited three of his colleagues to tour Laredo.
Cornyn was joined by U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis, R-North Carolina, and Republican U.S. Reps. John Carter, of Texas, and David Rouzer, of North Carolina. The group toured the border by helicopter and on boat, and at the end they shared their points of view during a press conference celebrated below the Gateway to the Americas International Bridge, a few feet from Mexico.
Cornyn, a member of the Senate Finance, Intelligence, and Judiciary Committees, decided to lead this tour because, he said, a lot of people have not been to the border and that’s the main reason why they don’t really understand the complexity and importance of the relationship between the U.S. and México.
“The fact of the matter is that the United States Chamber of Commerce says about five million American jobs depend on binational trade between México and the U.S.,” Cornyn said. “So even if you look at North Carolina or Nevada, for example, or any other state that is not strictly a border state, they are affected by the policies that occur here along the border.”
U.S. Representative John Carter, whose district is based in Round Rock, Texas, agreed with Cornyn.
“Most people on Washington D.C. have never seen this part of the border of the United States, and they do not understand how complex the issues are here, and more importantly they need to see this number one land port in America and realize economically these bridges touch every state in the Union with economic prosperity,” Carter said.
Carter said he wants congressional leaders and the White House to keep that in mind while they work on solving border issues.
Sen. Tillis considered the trip as “a real eye opener” because it captured real life on the border.
“This is the beginning of a dialogue for me and a number of other members. We can’t go back to Washington and just talk about what we saw. We need to talk about what we are going to do and produce the results that we desperately need,” Tillis said.
For Rep. Rouzer, this was his first trip to any portion of the border. He said he found it quite fascinating.
“To travel this border not only by land, but by air and also by boat, to get a good handle of the comprehensive nature of the issues and the complexity of the border security issues,” Rouzer said.
Cornyn’s idea is to invite as many members of Congress to come and visit the Texas border region. He believes his colleagues should listen and learn from key stakeholders, such as city mayors, county judges, Border Patrol, and Customs and Border Protection. He wants them to visit the international bridges and see first-hand the importance of the nation’s top land ports. One of these experts, he said, is the City of Laredo Mayor Pete Saenz.
Saenz, who was present at the event, was very pleased with the visit and expressed the need to address the border issues.
“They are here to experience in a very vividly and very actual experience, the border. You can’t any closer to the border than this here, at this location here,” Saenz said. Clearly visible behind Saenz was a Mexico customs building just across the Rio Grande. “They are here to observe, to take in and hopefully go back and formulate the policy for us.”
Tillis highlighted the job performed by the men and women that protect the border.
“I think that the men and women who we entrust to secure our border know what they need to do, (and) we need to facilitate their vision of what it takes to secure the border, and I am gonna do everything I can to do just that,” Tillis said.
He said this group of professionals understands the different topology in Texas, and they also have insights in the things needed to do better.
“They know what we need to do to make sure the people come into and exit this country in an orderly basis, through visa programs that work, so that we know when people enter this country and we can confirm when they exit this country, and incidentally that’s an issue that we share broadly,” Tillis said. “The best solutions come from the hearts and minds and experience of the people on the ground, not from people, some of whom never even have been down here, investing a day or two.”
Cornyn said the number one job members of Congress have is to secure the public’s safety.
“We can do so, once we develop the political will to actually do the things we need to do and consulting with our experts, people like Border Patrol, to provide the personnel, technology and the infrastructure, so the people on the southern border can live safely,” he said. “So, bottom line is, we need to listen, and that’s what we have been doing. Listening to the people who are the professionals, who know how to get the job done, and support them. And that’s what we intend to do.”
When talking about the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), Cornyn said Texas has the most at stake when it comes to trading relationships with Mexico.
“If we need to update NAFTA (which is a 20 plus year old treaty) then we ought to do that in the best interest of the United States,” Cornyn added.
For its part, Tillis said he could attest to how important it is to have a free, fair and safe trade with Mexico. “North Carolina is one of the top benefactors outside of Texas for job creation and for economic impact,” Tillis explained. “Job creation in the tens of thousands of workers have an economic impact in the billions.”
According to a press release, the Senators and Representatives were briefed on law enforcement’s “multi-layered approach” to securing the South Texas border, improving public safety, and ensuring the flow of legitimate trade and travel through ports of entry. The release said they also heard from federal and immigration court judges about their experience with immigration cases.
Senator Carter, who is the Head of Appropriations Subcommittee Personal and Homeland Security and former District Judge in Williamson County, Texas, believes all the border security issues are solvable.
“The vast majority of our resources come to this border, so it’s important to remind my non-appropriator friends, that whatever they think won’t cost money, (at the end of the day) it will cost money,” Carter said.
Rep. Rouzer considered Mexico as an important partner for the United States, but he said it’s also important not to forget the border security issues.
“I believe all American citizens, certainly the folks of my congressional district, care very deeply that our borders are secure and for many reasons,” Rouzer said. “It has been a great opportunity to take a look at the complexities we face here, and not only the strict border enforcement aspect of it, but the human aspect of it too. That’s a critical component that we need to address as well.”
Representatives for Border Patrol have expressed the need of a layered approach when it comes to the border, including a border wall. A layered approach, they say, is one that considers the different and varied regions on the border.
“In some places, it might make sense to have fencing, in some places there is the carrizo cane that obscures the visibility and it’s an easy place for people to hide and we need to find some way to get rid of that invasive species to make sure that the Border Patrol can do their job,” Cornyn said. “But is going to take money, it is gonna take personnel, it’s gonna take technology, and it’s gonna take infrastructure.”
Sens. Cornyn and Tillis say they intend to present a series of recommendations to Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly, and to President Trump himself, on how to achieve the goal of securing the border and at the same time leave open the bridges and the trading relationship with Mexico that’s important to the area’s prosperity. Cornyn said it is possible to have both.
“And then, at some point, once we regain the public’s confidence and allowing us to actually enforce on secure the border, I believe the American people will demonstrate their typical compassion when it comes to fixing our broken immigration system,” Cornyn explained. “It’s gonna take a lot of hard work.”
In his opinion, the immigration system doesn’t serve the best interest of the U.S. and doesn’t reflect America’s values.
“We have actually naturalized almost a million people a year, there’s no other country in the World that does that,” Cornyn added. “We realize its strength that we do right in this country for being a nation of immigrants, but we are also a nation of laws, and we have seen we lost our focus on that part of it. We need to do both.”
Cornyn said three issues impact the border: how to secure it, how the U.S. can reform its broken tax system, and what’s the best way to deal with trade.
“I am keeping very close eye on some of the tax proposals, the border adjustment tax, and I am pretty skeptical that it will actually work as advertised,” he explained. “I think it was a good faith effort to try to be part of the solution to the problem, but I honestly don’t think it’s going to succeed.”
Cornyn believes it would be best to simplify and lower tax rates, or making tax cuts more productively.
“Let the economy grow to make us more competitive internationally,” Cornyn said. “So, we need to come out with another better idea. Something better than the Border Adjustment Tax.”
Finally, Carter asked the media representatives to avoid using the word fear when reporting about the border issues.
“I don’t like to hear that word fear. There is nothing to fear. First and foremost, you are all Texans,” Carter said.
Carter added that U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady, chairman of the Subcommittee on Ways and Means, is from Texas and he wouldn’t harm his own State.
“So, let me reassure you that fear is a bad word and so many people use it, when they really don’t have anything to be afraid of. There’s going to be some changes, but we are gonna handle those changes, and they are a long way from being solved. So, please don’t use that word fear anymore, it causes too many people to be unreasonably afraid when they shouldn’t be afraid,” Carter said.