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McALLEN, RGV – In future, when officials from Washington, D.C., or Austin visit the Rio Grande Valley to talk to local leaders about the impact of border security and immigration policy, they should meet at the same time with state officials from Tamaulipas.

This is the view of McAllen Mayor Jim Darling, who made the proposal in response to a reporter’s question about the importance of chambers of commerce from the Valley and Tamaulipas meeting regularly and showing a united voice for the South Texas-Tamaulipas border region.

McAllen Mayor Jim Darling

“There is going to be an opportunity in the next few weeks as the border gets more and more attention that there will be more and more people visiting the border. I would like to see us have a response from the state of Tamaulipas and the Mexican response,” Darling said.

“We always talk about our side of the border when they (federal and state officials) come down. They get to see the river and whatever else. But the impact and the importance of Mexico from the Mexican side, I think would be a nice message to deliver when officials from Washington and Austin come to our area.”

Darling said joint appearances by Valley leaders and officials from the state of Tamaulipas would send a powerful message.

“I think it is very important because this is a region. We need to present it as a region. I think that is important. We think we know what is going on. The more we know about the Mexican response, I think the better off we are in getting information to those people that are visiting.”

Darling made his comments in a news conference held last Thursday at the McAllen Chamber of Commerce offices. The news conference followed a gathering of chamber of commerce officials from Tamaulipas and the Valley. They met to develop a plan to counter some of the federal policy initiatives being discussed by President Trump’s administration.

Not Either/Or, but We and Us

Cameron County Judge Eddie Treviño, Jr., was not at the chamber of commerce gathering in McAllen. However, speaking at a news conference in Brownsville the next day, Treviño, in response to a reporter’s question, said he liked Darling’s idea.

Cameron County Judge Eddie Treviño, Jr.

“I completely and wholeheartedly agree. I think that would be a win-win (to have State of Tamaulipas representatives present when Washington and Austin officials visit the Valley),” Treviño said. “For those in opposition (to this region), or those in support of the Wall, that may be the exact scenario they look for and they could say, ‘see, they don’t care about the United States, they care more about Mexico.’ To us, it is not an either/or. It is a ‘we.’ It is an ‘us.’ So, I wholeheartedly agree and I have had conversations with the (Tamaulipas) Governor’s representative here. We are trying to set something up along those lines. So, I think you are right. They need to be part of the discussion because, in everything we do here, they are part of the discussion.”

Treviño called his news conference to discuss testimony he gave earlier in the week before the U.S. House Homeland Security Committee in Washington, D.C.

Five Point Plan

The chamber event in McAllen yielded a five-point plan of action. Representatives from the Valley and Tamaulipas agreed to:

  • Strengthen binational bonds through agreements between various chambers and authorities
  • Disseminate and positively promote important information on both sides of the border
    Hold binational meetings much more frequently
  • Ask the Government of Tamaulipas to participate in an upcoming Rio South Texas
  • Economic Council meeting being organized in the Rio Grande Valley
  • Emphasize the importance of the border relationship in Washington, D.C., and Mexico City.

Bi-National Regional Plan

Keith Patridge, president of McAllen Economic Development Corporation, said he was encouraged by the amount of energy and unity on display at the chamber of commerce event. He said that, he can foresee a regional, binational, economic development plan being produced to boost jobs on both sides of the Rio Grande/Rio Bravo.

“This meeting was extremely important because what we have been hearing, coming out of both capitals, has really raised the rhetoric levels and really raised the anxiety level among the business community and the citizens and families that live on both sides of the border,” Patridge told the Rio Grande Guardian, after the news conference had ended.

“As the (McAllen) mayor (Jim Darling) said, we are the ones who feel the pain most with this uncertainty and controversy. This event is just the first step of really bringing the region together in a way to really start focusing on taking advantage of our strengths and our relationships that we have been developing over many, many, years  – to really start not only looking at how we handle the crisis situation that we are faced with right now and what do we do with the pending renegotiation of NAFTA, but more importantly, how do we as a region position ourselves for the future, to create jobs and economic opportunity for all of our residents that live on both sides of the border.”

McAllen EDC President Keith Patridge

Patridge went on to say: “We have talked about being one region for many, many, years and in many respects, we have practiced what we have been talking about. But, I see this as being the first meeting of what I hope will become a more comprehensive regional plan, not for the U.S. and Mexico but for our international region.”

Patridge acknowledged that he had some concerns going into the chamber event. But, he said he was pleased those concerns were unfounded.

“I am very optimistic about what we saw. I was a little bit concerned that maybe we would come in and we would start hearing about throwing bombs. We did not. We heard constructive dialogues. I think now we need to take that first step and turn it into tangible results that we can present to the federal governments as they start moving in to renegotiate NAFTA. Then, more importantly, how do we work together to really build a competitive region that will continue to provide opportunity for all our residents,” Patridge said. “I hope this is the start of a long, fruitful relationship of building a plan for the region.”

Telling the Region’s Story

Steve Ahlenius, president of the McAllen Chamber of Commerce, hosted the binational chamber gathering. In response to a reporter’s question, Ahlenius said things are moving so fast in Washington, D.C., that they Valley and Tamaulipas had to move fast also.

McAllen Chamber of Commerce CEO Steve Ahlenius

“I spoke about this earlier, the kinetic nature of what is happening. As the (McAllen) mayor mentioned, things are happening so quickly, executive orders come out, news and rumors start moving, so, I think it is a challenge for everybody to connect with each other to make sure that we start building those ties and relationships,” Ahlenius said.

“But then, also, being able to respond to some of the things that happen and I hope that we are initiating and not just responding. I think we will have opportunities, especially in how we try to portray this area, in both the state of Tamaulipas and the RGV. That is a big story and it has been a big challenge for a number of years and I think everybody recognizes that I think how we engage in telling that story on both sides of the river is critical.”

Ahlenius said elected officials from the region will have opportunities to explain the binational and bicultural ties that define southern Texas and northern Tamaulipas.

“I know there are folks coming down here on a regular basis. I know the (McAllen) mayor is constantly trying to get them to see things from our perspective, not only the RGV but the State of Tamaulipas and so I think the kinetic nature of what is happening, things are happening so fast now, we have got to be engaged in terms of dealing with it, addressing it and responding to it, and taking the initiative.”

Gov. Garcia Cabeza de Vaca

Before the news conference started, Ralph Garcia, vice president of McAllen Economic Development Corporation spoke to reporters from Tamaulipas and the Rio Grande Guardian. Garcia said there is a lot of misinformation reaching residents on both sides of the Rio Grande/Rio Bravo. He said he has been impressed with the tone and message being delivered by Tamaulipas Governor Francisco Garcia Cabeza de Vaca.

McAllen EDC Vice President Ralph Garcia

“The biggest thing I got out of this meeting this morning is the importance of communication. The minute we learn of something that is out there, something that is real, something that has been sent out by the Consulate, that has been sent by the mayor, the governors, that is something we need to be projecting. A lot of times we follow social media, we hear about certain things but we are not getting the right information out there. Unfortunately, the bad information is what gets out to the public and that is what they take as concrete and real. We need to change that. We need to be more proactive and be in front. On both sides of the border,” Garcia said.

Garcia said he attended three events last Wednesday where Gov. Garcia Cabeza de Vaca was the keynote speaker. Two were in Reynosa and one was in Mission.

“I think the governor of Tamaulipas did a very good job yesterday in Reynosa, talking to the community, saying, guys, this is the reality. I am going to Texas and let me tell you why I am going to Texas. I am building that relationship to keep those channels open. The worst thing we can do is separate from each other and lose this opportunity. That message was clear yesterday. He did it in a very positive forum, and I think the approach he is talking is – and this is a comment he made – he said the current president is doing what he promised to the people. He is doing what he thinks is best for his country. We cannot take that away from him because we as Mexicans, we do what is best for our country. But, we have to figure out how to adapt to those changes and continue to work together. That was his message and I think it was very positive.”

Editor’s Note: Reporters Apolonio Sandoval, Jr., and Stephanie Jara contributed to this story. The above story is the third in a three-part series on the Rio Grande Valley-Tamaulipas chambers of commerce meeting held at the McAllen Chamber of Commerce offices on Thursday, February 10, 2017. Click here for Part One. Click here for Part Two. Photos by Stephanie Jara.