RIO GRANDE CITY, RGV – Following the success of its roundtable discussion on border security on Monday, the Starr County Industrial Foundation has announced it will hold similar events once a quarter.

“We want to take the opportunity to visit different areas and talk about issues such as transportation mobility, higher education, border security, anything that concerns us all,” said Rose Benavidez, executive director of STIF.

Benavidez said the idea is to look at different ways to achieve success at a time when the Rio Grande Valley is facing unique challenges outside of its control – such as President Trump’s hostility to Mexico.

“We get different messages daily from D.C. talking about where this is going,” she said. “We want to find other ways to grow our community. Where do we go from here and how we make sure we partner and collaborate at every level, because we want to be more aggressive.”

Economic Development

Monday’s border security roundtable was co-hosted by SCIF and Congressman Henry Cuellar. Some of the stakeholders present voiced concern about a central plank in President Trump’s election campaign – the building a border wall. If the Department of Homeland Security picks up on the plans it had ten years ago for a border wall in Starr County, the campuses on Fort Ringgold elementary and middle schools in Rio Grande City could be split in two by the border wall. In Roma, city hall could be left stranded on the “Mexico side” of the border wall.

Among the SCIF board members present at the roundtable were Sam Vale, the group’s chairman, Richard Gutierrez, its vice-chair, Larry Gonzalez its secretary, and Billy Canales.

During the roundtable, Benavidez told Border Patrol RGV Sector Chief Manuel Padilla that the more economic development projects her group could bring to Starr County, the more border security would be enhanced.

“There’s a chance to not only to grow revenue into the community but assisting them in creating an area where people can feel safe, while investing in our region,” Benavidez told the Rio Grande Guardian after the roundtable event had ended. “Our message is for us to formulate that into a great opportunity (because) moving forward it can resonate on the potential (border) wall.”

Benavidez explained how sales tax revenues have gone down by two percent in Starr County. However, she said this has been the case across the region. Other problems affecting the economy are the peso devaluation and the idea of a border adjustment tax, Benavidez explained.

“All these things deter people from coming here to buy products. It has affected commerce tourism,” Benavidez said. “And, yes, there was an increase in the unemployment rate, but that was because of a change in the state calculation or formula.”

Benavidez stressed that economic development and business leaders in Starr County do support border security. Discussing economic development, Border Patrol Chief Padilla said that when there’s a border that is spoilable there will be criminal activity.

“That acts as a deterrence to legitimate businesses coming. We actually have ports of entry where you cannot get hardly any traffic coming in from Mexico because of the insecurity,” Padilla said.

Nonetheless, Padilla said that even when the right immigration laws and operations are in place, it does not mean crime won’t cross the border.

“The numbers of illegal immigrants trying to cross here are not directly correlated to the situation of border security,” Padilla said.

He added that a fall in the detention of illegal immigrants has been because less family groups or children have been crossing the border.

“We have been having improvement when it comes to securing the border,” Padilla said. “Washington, D.C. is a key part of this effort to secure the border because we are always sending input to D.C., and we know they are very engaged.”