MISSION, RGV – The chairman of the Border Trade Alliance’s public policy committee has suggested a way legislators from the northern and southern borders of the United States can wield more power in Congress.

Sam Vale, president and CEO of the Starr-Camargo Bridge Company in Rio Grande City, said highlighting the importance of land ports of entry will help secure more funding for border communities. 

Sam Vale

We have got to help the senators with arguments you can use with their colleagues,” said Vale, at a roundtable discussion hosted by U.S. Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz.

“If we took all the people on the southern border and put the senators and congressmen together, we do not have enough votes to get a cup of coffee. Take the northern border. They don’t have that either. What is the only thing we all have in common? Ports of entry.”

The roundtable discussion took place at the Anzalduas International Bridge in Mission and attracted dozens of elected officials from South Texas.

Vale pointed out that land ports of entry are “the greatest source of our wealth and the greatest cause of our harm.” He listed some examples. 

“More drugs come through all the ports of entry in the United States, more wealth comes through it. Why don’t we try to figure the value of what those ports of entry do and start allocating funding on the basis of what supports that wealth,” Vale asked.

“And how do we stop rewarding people for taking cash and guns south here and cigarettes to Canada? All sorts of activities go through the ports of entry. If we could sell the ports of entry of the nation, you’ve got enough votes to pass and get allocations for what you need.”

Vale encouraged the elected officials in the room to think about the challenges Senators Cornyn and Cruz in trying to get funding for South Texas.

In a statement, other BTA members said Texas needs to balance the need for border security with legitimate trade and travel.

BTA Vice Chairman Sergio Contreras, who also serves as the president and CEO of the Rio Grande Valley Partnership, a regional chamber of commerce, said participants at the roundtable made clear that free-flowing cross-border commerce is essential to the health of the border region economy.

“We made clear to the senators that we appreciated the president’s willingness to travel to the border today to learn firsthand from our area’s leaders about the unique issues we face,” Contreras said. “We share the president’s prioritization of border security, but it’s a challenge we must face without inflicting tremendous economic harm by disrupting the trade responsible for so many jobs in our area and across the country.”

Since 1986, the BTA has served as a grassroots, non-profit organization that provides a forum for discussion and advocacy on issues pertaining to border development and quality of life and trade in the Americas. A network of public and private sector representatives from the United States, Mexico and Canada, BTA’s core values include a commitment to improving the quality of life of border communities through trade and commerce.

Sergio Contreras

Contreras pointed out that for the past year the BTA has been involved in the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement and has made the congressional adoption of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, or USMCA, a top priority.

“We shared with the senators that we are hopeful that this impasse over border security and government spending can be solved quickly so Washington’s attention can focus on the need to strengthen our trading relationship with Canada and Mexico,” Contreras said. “We commended the president for his administration reaching a deal on the USMCA, and we pledged our support to Sen. Cornyn and Sen. Cruz in helping to ensure its ratification and implementation.”

Joining Contreras and Vale at the event were fellow BTA board members Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez, who moderated the discussion; McAllen Mayor Jim Darling, who greeted President Trump at McAllen International Airport; and Rigoberto Villarreal, superintendent of international bridges for McAllen.

In the BTA statement, Vale added: “We thanked Sen. Cornyn and Sen. Cruz for convening the important discussion. We shared with them that the president is right that the border by its nature will always have security concerns that must be dealt with, but our economy is so connected to our cross-border relationship with Mexico that we must be extremely cautious how we address this challenge.

“We do not believe, for example, that constructing a wall the entire length of the U.S.-Mexico border is practical or a wise use of limited taxpayer resources. But a significant investment in our ports of entry for personnel, technology upgrades, and improved infrastructure would both help the U.S. economy and significantly aid our efforts to interdict traffickers, smugglers, and others who would seek to do harm.”