PHARR, RGV – The Texas Border Coalition was highly visible with its efforts to block construction of the border wall eight or nine years ago.

Then-TBC Chairman Chad Foster appeared regularly on national news networks urging repeal of the Secure Fence Act of 2006.

Today, TBC leaders are gearing up to be in the national spotlight again, responding to presidential candidates that make campaign swings through Texas arguing for the scrapping of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and/or building an even higher border wall.

Laredo Mayor Pete Saenz
Laredo Mayor Pete Saenz

“We had a great leader back then with Chad Foster and it looks like we are going to be revisiting those old issues,” said Monica Weisberg-Stewart, chair of TBC’s immigration and border security committee. “Today we have a great leader also, J.D. Salinas, and we are ready to fight again for our border region.”

Republican Party presidential candidate Donald Trump has called for a bigger border wall and for Mexico to pay for it. He has also called NAFTA a “disaster.” Other Republican candidates have said there cannot be immigration reform until the border is totally secure. Democratic Party presidential candidate Bernie Sanders has also said “no” to NAFTA. Many of these candidates are expected to visit Texas in the run up to the March 1 primary.

TBC Chairman J.D. Salinas said his group is ready to meet the presidential candidates when they swing through Texas. The TBC held its quarterly meeting at the Hampton Inn & Suites in Pharr on Thursday.

“We stood up to Donald Trump when he made some of his negative comments. We invited him to the border so he could learn what is going on here. We will do the same thing with the other candidates. We invite all these candidates to come and learn about what is going on along the border. I think it is time to have a conversation,” Salinas told the Rio Grande Guardian.

“If you are going to invest in a wall that is not going to work, you need to think twice about it. You need to make an investment where the investment is most needed, in our ports of entries so we can have legal commerce come back and forth; so we do not impede economic development. We want to be partners to make sure that happens in a proper way.”

Weisberg-Stewart said Salinas has a proven track record in making something out of next to nothing. She said when the border wall was being proposed for Hidalgo County, Salinas, who at the time was Hidalgo county judge, helped ensure that levees were restored as part of the project thereby ensuring that large parts of the county were not certified as being in a floodplain. If this had happened insurance rates would have gone through the roof.

“I am a sixth generation Texan so I can tell you what our families have been through. I can also speak as a presidential appointee to the General Services Administration. I can give you a perspective from being an elected official for 12 years,” Salinas said. “Not all the solutions in Hidalgo County will work in El Paso or Laredo. You need to come visit and learn. I invite all of the presidential candidates to come and learn so we can have a good, professional conversation about these major issues.”

Laredo Mayor Pete Saenz is chairman-elect of the Texas Border Coalition. Last year Saenz participated in discussions with Trump when the presidential candidate made a high profile visit to the border region.

“We welcomed Mr. Trump. We hoped we could change some of his notions on what he thought about the border area. After his visit he said perhaps certain sections of the border would not be conducive to a border wall but of late I have heard no, he is now in favor of a complete wall,” Saenz told the Rio Grande Guardian.

“Also, the border wall is truly an offense to Mexico. If you live on the border you know how we dependent on international trade. Our economies, our culture, are so interwoven with Mexico. We have to see Mexico in a higher light than what is being portrayed in the national conversation. I think we can resolve all the issues but we need to be careful. We know Mexico has so much potential. I have been involved in the oil and gas industry and I know it will bounce back and when it does I think Mexico is poised so well, because of the Burgos Basin, and other reserves. It will truly benefit the border area.”

Like Salinas, Saenz said he would welcome visits by presidential candidates from both major political parties.

“We hope they can come with an open mind so that we can have a meaningful conversation. We live the border. We can work it out. We are bright people. I am glad the immigration issue has come up. We can deal with it and TBC can play a major role in structuring a comprehensive immigration reform package,” Saenz added.

Weisberg-Stewart agreed.

“No one knows and cares more about border security than those of us who live on the border, raise our families on the border and work on the border. It is our job to go out and there and educate these presidential candidates on the realities of the border, not the perception of the border. We take it personally because we live it and breath it,” Weisberg-Stewart said.

“We need to continuously educate these individuals who are running for high office on the realities of the border. Also those sitting in the House and the Senate. Negative publicity about our region can cost a lot of jobs. It is our job to educate them.”

Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying this story shows Texas Border Coalition Chairman J.D. Salinas being interviewed by reporters at the group’s quarterly meeting in Pharr on Thursday, February 11, 2016.