MCALLEN, RGV – If President Trump truly wants to secure the U.S.-Mexico border he should focus more on air, land, and sea ports of entry than on building more border walls, says the Texas Border Coalition.
TBC, which represents cities and counties from El Paso to Brownsville, has long argued that a greater emphasis should be placed on securing international ports of entry in Texas, rather than the stretch of river between the ports. In other words, give more resources to the men and women in blue (CBP), rather than the men and women in green (Border Patrol).
TBC points to a Government Accountability Office study which showed that Customs and Border Protection’s manpower at international ports is short 5,000.
“The president should recognize the greatest threat to border security are the international drug cartels who smuggle most of their heroin and methamphetamine through the legal border crossings. We must improve the infrastructure, technology and communications at legal border crossings used by Customs agents to stop drug trafficking and facilitate legitimate trade and travel. We must also increase Customs enforcement by 5,000 agents,” said J.D. Salinas, chairman of TBC.
Salinas is a former Hidalgo County Judge. Hidalgo County is the largest county on the southern border of Texas. Salinas made his remarks in response to President Trump’s address to Congress on Tuesday evening. Many commentators gave Trump high marks for the tone of his speech, if not the content. TBC was unimpressed.
“Unfortunately, President Trump missed a real opportunity. In his first address to a joint session of Congress, the president squandered the chance to advance real border security solutions and instead focused on the false promise of a border wall,” Salinas said.
“The president should have provided realistic solutions to our broken immigration system, and put forward a strategy that emphasizes border security priorities where they will make the greatest improvements for our communities and America’s national security,” Salinas said.
Salinas offered the federal government suggestions on how it can better secure the border with Mexico.
“We must take advantage of the Rio Grande River by moving Border Patrol agents up to and onto the water. The Border Patrol maritime force is highly successful at preventing illegal river crossings when they have boats on the river, but we need more boats,” Salinas said.
“We must also eradicate the Salt Cedar and Carrizo Cane that obscures sightlines and hides criminal activity along the riverbanks. In addition, all-weather roads are needed to provide Border Patrol agents faster mobility and access to the river.”
Another proposal from TBC is to appoint more immigration judges. These are needed to handle the casework for the thousands of families and unaccompanied minors that have come up through Mexico from Central America in recent years, Salinas said. Many of these immigrants are seeking asylum due to violent conditions in their home countries.
“We must employ enough judges to process the thousands of families and unaccompanied minors who surrender to Border Patrol and Customs officials seeking asylum. The current backlog of more than half-a-million cases demands Congress double the number of immigration judges to 524,” Salinas said.
He added: “At a time when the U.S. government is projected to spend over $500 billion more than it has in revenue in the current fiscal year, there is no possible excuse for wasting $21.5 billion on a structure that we know won’t accomplish its mission of improving border security.”
TBC is a collective voice of border mayors, county judges, economic development commissions focused on issues that affect 2.5 million people along the Texas-Mexico border region and economically disadvantaged counties from El Paso to Brownsville. Salinas said TBC is working closely with the state and federal government to educate, advocate, and secure funding for transportation, immigration and border security, workforce development, economic development and health care.
Senator John Cornyn
TBC’s reaction to President Trump’s speech was in stark contrast to U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, Texas’ senior senator in Washington, D.C.
“I think it’s safe to say that the President had an extraordinary night last night, and that’s not just a view from a partisan, but I think on a bipartisan basis people were enormously impressed by the vision that the President laid out,” Cornyn said.
“He laid out a broad, welcoming vision of some of the things he wants to accomplish, but did so in a way that welcomed Democrats and bipartisan support to help make that progress for the American people. He articulated an optimistic vision and a new direction for the country. This election, like the election back in 2008, was a change election.”
Cornyn said the American people made clear they wanted “to get back in the game” when they elected President Trump in November.
“I’m grateful that this Administration believes in the importance of keeping promises. We’ve already seen the President keep his promises to help rein in overreaching regulations, his commitment to reforming the tax code that he talked about last night so the economy can grow again and we can all benefit, and his commitment to repealing and replacing the failed experiment of Obamacare,” Cornyn said.
“These aren’t just talking points. These are promises he’s already begun delivering on. At a time when our country faces innumerable threats from all around the world, including terrorism here at home, I appreciate the fact the President is committed to doing what it takes to restore our national security, to protect our borders, and to restore the rule of law.”
Cornyn said that what America needs, and what his constituents in Texas call, write, and ask him about all the time, is a way forward that delivers security to the American people, encourages prosperity for everyone, and instills confidence in job creators and investors. If this is achieved, Cornyn said, the United States can enjoy a new era of prosperity for all its people.
“I’m confident that President Trump, working closely with Congress, can deliver on these and many more promises he’s made to the American people. And it’s obvious to me from his comments last night that he is welcoming and inviting our Democratic colleagues to stop the resistance, stop the obstruction, but actually come join us to help move the country forward,” Cornyn added.
Congressman Vicente Gonzalez
U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, D-McAllen, had a different take to Sen. Cornyn. Pointing out that he had spent the last week traveling throughout South Texas, Gonzalez said the “resounding message” he heard was one of “fierce opposition” to many of the words and actions of the Trump Administration.
“Our communities are worried about executive actions that tear apart immigrant families and about plans to build a wall between us and our closest neighbor and ally,” Gonzalez said. “The first 40 days of the Trump presidency have deepened the divisions exposed by last year’s election.”
Going forward, Rep. Gonzalez said Trump must change his tone. “The President must take the lead to unify our country, and I challenge him to trade divisive rhetoric for positive action to improve the lives of all Americans.”