MISSION, RGV – The Texas Border Coalition has applauded the end of the government shutdown and urged President Donald Trump and members of Congress to reach bipartisan agreement on how to achieve border security.

President Trump announced Friday that the federal government will be re-opened through February 15. Between now and Feb. 15, a conference committee comprised Republicans and Democrats in the Senate and House will try to fashion a border security funding package.

Laredo Mayor Pete Saenz

The package that may or may not include the $5.7 billion President Trump wants for a border wall.

Earlier this week, TBC, which comprises cities and counties from El Paso to Brownsville, unveiled the Texas Border Compact, a plan to secure the U.S.-Mexico border. Its chairman, Laredo Mayor Pete Saenz, said this compact could provide the basis for a bipartisan agreement.

”The Texas Border Coalition applauds President Donald Trump and the bipartisan leadership of Congress in reaching agreement to end the government shutdown,” Saenz said.

“We appreciate the president’s willingness to engage in bipartisan negotiations with congressional leaders to reach agreement on how to achieve border security. These negotiations should proceed as quickly as possible.” 

Saenz said TBC wants the nation to know that local border leaders working with elected officials in Congress have the “know-how and local knowledge needed to implement effective border security” that meets the challenge.

“We urge negotiators to use our Texas Border Compact as a foundation for negotiations. The compact emerged from a meeting of TBC officials, President Trump, U.S. Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz and local stakeholders,” Saenz said.

“It is informed by our deep understanding as local government officials of the challenges that confront border communities and what works best to provide security for U.S. citizens.”

Saenz said the compact is built on three bipartisan legislative pillars sponsored by Texas representatives in Congress and founded on bipartisan legislation recently enacted by U.S. Sens. John Cornyn, R-Texas and Gary Peters, D-Mich.

Saenz said the three pillars of the Texas Border Compact are:

  • The bipartisan Secure Miles with All Resources and Technology (SMART) Act sponsored by U.S. Reps. Will Hurd, R-Texas, Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, and Vicente Gonzalez, D-Texas, to require the deployment of the most practical and effective border security technologies to secure the border, in consultation with local stakeholders (including county and municipal elected officials), based on a mile-by-mile cost justification. The bill requires the immediate eradication of carrizo cane and salt cedar on the banks of the Rio Grande River to give Border Patrol unimpeded line-of-site to interdict illegal crossers.
  • The bipartisan Border and Port Security Act sponsored by U.S. Reps. Filemon Vela, D-Texas, Vicente Gonzalez, D-Texas, and Peter King, R-N.Y., would require the hiring of 500 new customs inspectors and 100 new agricultural inspectors each year at the the international border crossings, known as ports of entry until the total number of officers equals the requirements identified each year in the annual Workload Staffing Model; Homeland Security officials told Congress in 2018 that the department is 4,000 officers short today.
  • A yet-to-be-introduced bill announced by Rep. Vela to provide $4 billion to modernize ports of entry to address the deficit identified by Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan during congressional hearings last year.

Saenz said these provisions would be subject to the United States Ports of Entry Threat and Operational Review Act, sponsored by Sens. Cornyn and Peters and recently signed into law by President Trump. This act requires a six-month in-depth analysis of the strengths, opportunities, and vulnerabilities of ports of entry to identify modernization needs in terms of personnel, technology and infrastructure.

Saenz noted that border security is needed both at the ports of entry, where 90 percent of the hard drugs are smuggled into the U.S., and between the ports where most undocumented entries occurs.

“We agree with our bipartisan leaders in Congress that between the ports we need a smart wall built with high-tech resources like sensors, radar, LIDAR, fiber optics, drones and cameras to detect and then track incursions across our border so we can deploy efficiently our most important resource, the men and women of Border Patrol to perform the most difficult task – interdiction,” Saenz said.

“At the ports of entry, we need the personnel, technology and infrastructure that will enable our customs and agricultural inspectors to more effectively achieve their goals of stopping illegal trafficking and facilitating legitimate trade and travel.

“Between the ports we need a ‘Smart Wall’ built with high-tech resources like sensors, radar, LIDAR, fiber optics, drones and cameras to detect and then track incursions across our border so we can deploy efficiently our most important resource, the men and women of Border Patrol.”

Cuellar appointment

U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar

U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar also welcomed the end of the government shutdown. The Laredo Democrat was named by Speaker Nancy Pelosi as one of the House Democratic Members to serve on a conference committee for homeland security.

“House Democrats look forward to working in a bipartisan, bicameral way to pass legislation to fund the government in a manner that honors our values, respects our workers and protects our borders,” Pelosi said. “We are pleased that these outstanding, deeply experienced Members will be at the head of the table during this critical process.” 

The following Democratic Members will serve on the conference committee:

  • Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey of New York
  • Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security Chairwoman Lucille Roybal-Allard of California
  • Congressman David Price of North Carolina
  • Congresswoman Barbara Lee of California
  • Congressman Henry Cuellar of Texas
  • Congressman Pete Aguilar of California

“Finally, the President has taken measures to reopen the federal government and relieve the American people of their suffering after 35 crippling days. As Democrats have repeatedly said, we must first open the government, pay employees, and then negotiate a compromise,” Cuellar said.

“However, this measure will only fund the government for the next three weeks. We must secure year-long funding and meet at the negotiating table in order to reach a compromise on border security. 

“Let one thing be clear: Democrats continue to support strong, smart, and effective border security solutions instead of wasting billions of taxpayer dollars on an ineffective wall. I will continue to work with my colleagues from both sides to reach a long-term bipartisan compromise.”

Comprehensive Immigration Reform

State Sen. José Rodríguez, D- El Paso, is a former chair of the Texas Border Coalition’s healthcare committee. Currently in the Rio Grande Valley as part of the Rio Grande Valley Parternship’s 22nd Valley Legislative Tour, Rodriguez told the Rio Grande Guardian and RGV Public Radio 88 FM:

State Sen. José Rodríguez

“We must insist the issue of the border wall be set aside. It is irrelevant to the question of having a functioning government. We need to steer the conversation away from simply the wall and even the DACA students. 

“We need to get back to the conversation of comprehensive immigration reform to finally fix all these problems where we do legalization of the people that are here, to provide work visas for those that need to work and industry needs their work, to reform the visa system that is backlogged and needs to be more efficient and not wait 20 years to get some relief. We have just got to star talking about comprehensive immigration reform again.”